Paul Kurtz—Science and Planetary Ethics (May 12)
Posted: 16 May 2006 06:27 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I went to Paul Kurtz’s public talk on this topic in NYC a few weeks ago. I think these are ideas that work best in a "discussion" format, as with DJ, than as a "manifesto" or talk.

He seems right on to me about the need for a sort of ethics that does not privelege nation or ethnicity, but rather our human commonality, and our planetary and environmental commonality.

My only slight question mark was his suggestion of a sort of "planetary ethics pledge of allegiance". Why is such a thing necessary? In general, pledges of this sort are not helpful. Someone who is not interested in the program will not be swayed to take the pledge, or not follow it if taken. Someone who agrees with the program doesn’t need to take the pledge.

Pledges like these work historically as social persuasion devices, to distinguish anyone who might not agree, by forcing them either to lie in public or to publicly acknowledge their disagreement. I think they are a ham-handed way of getting discussion going. My assumption is that Dr. Kurtz isn’t too serious about such pledges, but just wants to highlight what is involved with his program. Nevertheless I think the emphasis was, in this instance, misplaced.

Also excellent to hear about the summer Student Leadership Conference. Quite an opportunity! Hope it’s a big success for Tom Donnelly and CFI.

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Posted: 16 May 2006 06:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Paul Kurtz—Science and Planetary Ethics (May 12)

I went to Paul Kurtz’s public talk on this topic in NYC a few weeks ago. I think these are ideas that work best in a “discussion” format, as with DJ, than as a “manifesto” or talk.

He seems right on to me about the need for a sort of ethics that does not privelege nation or ethnicity, but rather our human commonality, and our planetary and environmental commonality.

My only slight question mark was his suggestion of a sort of “planetary ethics pledge of allegiance”. Why is such a thing necessary? In general, pledges of this sort are not helpful. Someone who is not interested in the program will not be swayed to take the pledge, or not follow it if taken. Someone who agrees with the program doesn’t need to take the pledge.

Pledges like these work historically as social persuasion devices, to distinguish anyone who might not agree, by forcing them either to lie in public or to publicly acknowledge their disagreement. I think they are a ham-handed way of getting discussion going. My assumption is that Dr. Kurtz isn’t too serious about such pledges, but just wants to highlight what is involved with his program. Nevertheless I think the emphasis was, in this instance, misplaced.

Also excellent to hear about the summer Student Leadership Conference. Quite an opportunity! Hope it’s a big success for Tom Donnelly and CFI.

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Posted: 16 May 2006 07:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I agree, Doug. When I was listening to the latest podcast, I found it strange that he was proposing a pledge.

And, while I seem to agree with Paul his ethics, the podcast didn’t make it clear as to how these ethics are derived from reason and science.  I’ve had many discussions with people who feel that my liberal/left/libertarian/progressive (labels just don’t work) politics and ethics are just made up.  I do make them up, but to be honest, I feel a little strange because I consider myself to be quite logical. In this area, I feel that I am on more shaky ground.  Paul’s interview on POI this week didn’t make me feel any better.

Also, where’s the Lauren Becker commentary?
-tom

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Posted: 16 May 2006 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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[quote author=“tom_g”]And, while I seem to agree with Paul his ethics, the podcast didn’t make it clear as to how these ethics are derived from reason and science.  I’ve had many discussions with people who feel that my liberal/left/libertarian/progressive (labels just don’t work) politics and ethics are just made up.  I do make them up, but to be honest, I feel a little strange because I consider myself to be quite logical. In this area, I feel that I am on more shaky ground.  Paul’s interview on POI this week didn’t make me feel any better.

I expect that he would give some rationale in his books—that’s the best place to develop a lengthy and serious argument. But he did give some scientific basis for his general humanist outlook, having to do with the fact that we are all one species, that we all inhabit the same small planet, etc. That is at least reason for rejecting the most nave sorts of nationalism or ethnocentrism.

The belief in science itself is a form of argument for a universal human culture. I would argue that in order to correctly understand the enterprise of science and the workings of reason we have to see them as crucially not culturally bound practices. This is against a lot of religious or post-modernist obscurantism. There may be an Indian religion, but there is no such thing as Indian science or Indian reason. The Nazis argued against “Jewish science” when rejecting Einstein. The Soviets against “bourgeois science” when rejecting modern biology and plant breeding in favor of Lysenkoism. Anyone who actually understands the way the scientific method (or reason in general) works, however, would see that these attacks are at the very least self-defeating. There is no “ethnic” practice which can substitute for science. Either you allow the method and its objective controls, repeatability, etc., or you don’t.

So in a sense the whole “new enlightenment” project is grounded in the same 17th century arguments that kicked off the last enlightenment.

I’m sure there are more specific, as you say, “liberal/left/libertarian/progressive” arguments that aren’t touched here ... (although I do have a problem putting “progressive” in the same group as “libertarian” ...) but in that case the question is if Dr. Kurtz is actually making those claims. To the extent that he is, perhaps we can come up with some rationale.

[quote author=“tom_g”]Also, where’s the Lauren Becker commentary?

Good question. I’m sure they give her and the other commentators a rest from time to time.

:wink:

After all, Tom Flynn’s “Did You Know?” segment has been on recent hiatus too. I’m sure they’ll be back ...

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Posted: 16 May 2006 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]I expect that he would give some rationale in his books—that’s the best place to develop a lengthy and serious argument. But he did give some scientific basis for his general humanist outlook, having to do with the fact that we are all one species, that we all inhabit the same small planet, etc. That is at least reason for rejecting the most nave sorts of nationalism or ethnocentrism.

I agree. To play devil’s advocate, how does the fact that we are all one species, and we all inhabit the same small planet, lead one to a type of ethics that Paul is suggesting? I mean, this could just as likely lead me to nationalism. I don’t see the connection.  It’s really just my insecurity on the issue, however, because I should really do some more reading. I feel pretty strongly that I’m a good person and have great morals. I just can’t explain it in completely rational terms.

[quote author=“dougsmith”]I’m sure there are more specific, as you say, “liberal/left/libertarian/progressive” arguments that aren’t touched here ... (although I do have a problem putting “progressive” in the same group as “libertarian” ...)

I know, labels quickly fall apart. I meant “libertarian” in the classic sense of the word - not in the deeply-ironic American Libertarian party sense. I really do think that while imperfect,   is a much better model than the standard “left/right” or “liberal/conservative” model.

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Posted: 16 May 2006 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“tom_g”]To play devil’s advocate, how does the fact that we are all one species, and we all inhabit the same small planet, lead one to a type of ethics that Paul is suggesting? I mean, this could just as likely lead me to nationalism. I don’t see the connection.  It’s really just my insecurity on the issue, however, because I should really do some more reading. I feel pretty strongly that I’m a good person and have great morals. I just can’t explain it in completely rational terms.

Well, it’s an excellent question, Tom. Perhaps some other people here can help you better ... I’d say that roughly the argument could go something like this: a nationalist/ethnocentric ethics is one that priveleges MY nation or ethnicity over the rest. For example, a nationalist American will say that Americans are more ethically worthy than the inhabitants of other nations. So in some ethical sense it matters more if an American is murdered than a Scotsman or an Argentine. It matters more that you steal money from an American than from a Japanese or a Filipino. You get the picture.

Now, one could say, this sort of ethics might make sense if Americans were some sort of “different breed” of humans—if we had different cognitive capacities, different abilities to feel pain, etc. That’s the sort of argument the Nazis made about the other races: they were “inferior”. They saw the Jews and the Slavs as basically animals, without moral worth. Thus Hitler wanted to kill the Jews and enslave the Slavs. Further, he thought that basically the Aryan race was somehow biologically different from the other races. That’s why the Nazis had such an interest in blond hair, blue eyes and the other biological markers of supposed “Aryanism”. The same arguments went for the racist slaveholders in the American south, and some more modern proponents of eugenics. They believed that there were inferior races, “different breeds” of humans as I said before. Much of their efforts went into identifying the supposed external markers of these races.

OK, but all the evidence from modern science shows that this stuff is entirely garbage. There are no deep racial differences—arguably, “race” isn’t even a scientifically respectable term. There are no biological differences between nations.

So any potential support for these sorts of ethics, the ones that privelege one nation or race above all the rest, is demolished by modern science. There just isn’t any way to construct an ethical framework that priveleges one sort of person over another if we look to biology, for example.

The fact that we all inhabit the same small planet leads us to realize that there is no substitute for environmental awareness. We can’t expect a “rapture” to help us out.

[quote author=“tom_g”]I know, labels quickly fall apart. I meant “libertarian” in the classic sense of the word - not in the deeply-ironic American Libertarian party sense. I really do think that while imperfect,   is a much better model than the standard “left/right” or “liberal/conservative” model.

Yes, these sorts of labels are only rough-and-ready, and do break down at the edges. My concern is more with that (as I see it) sop to greed which is sometimes called “libertarianism” around here ...

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Posted: 10 July 2006 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Planetary Ethics and Race

Speaking of race and planetary ethics:

I was formerly a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, which is the first school to have an African American Studies (AAS) dept. and has the largest such department in the country, if I recall correctly.  They also have the professor who coined the term “Afrocentrism” and many in the department subscribe to this philosophy.

I had several friends who were AAS students, and all of them said that secular humanism is culturalist/racist and hegemonic.  One explained to me that most indigenous cultures have, for example, differentiated roles for males and females, and that this is the good way to live (a perspective likely informed by Afrocentrism).  Several say that by embracing the values of individualism there is no way we can have a successful, long-lived culture; instead, we will destroy the environment and each other.  In other words, it is futile to try to have secular humanist values and not destroy our world.

The culturalist/racist perspective comes up because humanism comes out of the Western tradition and is seen by sec-hums as the best (and smartest) way to live.  But humanism requires that they try to make other people humanists too, say, those who stone witches in Nigeria, or those who give their 12 year old daughters for marriage in remote Chinese villages, or those who burn libraries and destroy priceless artifacts, or those whose enforce Sharia law on their neighbors.  It is true, though, that humanists do see themselves engaged in a culture struggle, especially with cultures whose values are harmful and spreading.  It seems that “persuading” a different culture to be less hegemonic is, in itself, hegemonic.

Also, humanists in America tend to be overwhelmingly white.  smile  That’s a different story…

I’m going to hold off on giving my counterarguments until later.  I’m in a kind of rambling mood, and I want to see if anyone grabs this bait.  smile

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