Sunday, December 30, 2012

I value...

"I value believing as many true things and as few false things as possible." -- Matt Dillahunty

This is, at it's heart, the core of Skepticism.  Part of the value of this quote, to me at least, is something a bit more subtle than it first seems.  Valuing truth and an aversion to falsehood is so deeply ingrained in my nature, that it's easy for me to assume that anyone who differs is faulty in some manner.

That's where I find the real value in this quote.  It's the start, where he begins with "I value..."  I believe that faith is a vice, rather than a virtue, and I believe that comfort will come naturally to most who understand the world around them.

My recent trip home to Alberta, and specifically to Calgary, really drove this home to me though.  While I had a chance to visit with two dear friends from college who are ardent skeptics as well (though perhaps not as vocal as myself), I had a long drive with someone who is superstitious as a form of comfort, and was reminded of many other friends who were never skeptics in the first place.  Many were certainly bright, but it just didn't register on their radar as something that was missing from their lives.

And maybe it isn't.  While this trip hasn't exactly convinced me to dress in my finest attire and visit a congregation every Sunday to eat little bits of Jesus-bread, it certainly has made me hesitate a bit when I catch myself foaming over some particularly grandiose show of ignorance from my friends.

What other core values are there that I haven't recognized yet?  Do you have these values yourself, and if so, why?  Of course, these are not exclusive, but I think each of us will, generally, have one of these at the core of our endeavours.

My brief list so far:
- Skepticism (believing truths and disbelieving falsehoods)
- Faith
- Comfort (family/security/superstition... perhaps this one could be unpacked a bit more)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Crazy Claims

In the last few days, I have had some stunning claims placed before me. These all come from people that I respect, each in a different capacity. That they have all come at the same time is surely coincidence, but might also be in reaction to my growing propensity to be outspoken about morality, ethics and religion.

The three claims are as follows:
1. Children are the property of parents. Corollary: anything a parent does with their child is immune to criticism.
2. Children are born sinful. Corollary: this aligns with Original Sin, and therefore supports the "moral authority" of the Bible.
3. The only objective view on morality is that every view on morality is subjective. Corollary: an individual has as much right to kill another as the other individual has right to live.

The only reasonable course of action I can see in light of these claims is to bring them into the light, to discuss and explain why I think each of these are not just incorrect, but damaging to society, and perhaps venture into why I think they persist. I expect #3 to be the most challenging, but also the most interesting -- and, I hope, the most rewarding if I succeed in changing opinions.

I thought this would be both a good way to lay out their relation to each other and to encourage myself to actually talk about them.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Broken Road Fallacy

A few weeks ago, on Facebook and elsewhere, I asked "Are taxes theft?"  Among the answers I received, one of them was "Only if you don't like roads."  While I feel that response does not actually address the question, as it speaks to economics rather than morality, I have thought about it further.  In essence, I believe it is fundamentally flawed - a victim of the "Broken Window Fallacy".

To briefly explain (longer explanation in the video), the theory goes like this: When a window is broken, it stimulates the economy.  The window must be replaced, which employs the glass maker, and the sand harvester, and the farmers who must feed them, etc.  This is a fallacy because, drawn to it's conclusion, we should employ people to break windows, purely to stimulate the economy.

There is more to it though, especially in regards to the road response.  The reason one would even consider the broken window "stimulating" is to only look at what happens, not what could happen.  Collecting taxes to pay for roads creates a better world, because we gain all the benefits of having a road.  But what would happen without collecting the taxes (breaking the window) in the first place?

While the specifics of any given situation are outside the scope of this post, think about what is removed.  By creating a guaranteed source of road growth, there will be less innovation spent on reducing the need for roads - better or alternate forms of travel such as mass transit or industrial rail.  There would also be less sprawl, as it would be more difficult to drive to work from 3 suburbs outside of city limits.  Less travel distance, so reduced gas consumption, so prices wouldn't rise as rapidly.

In the end, from an economic standpoint, I find the road response (and the general line of thinking behind it) to "Are taxes theft?" still wanting, and lacking any serious persuasiveness.  If individuals and businesses are unwilling to pay for roads on their own, I do not find it economically logical that the population should be taxed en masse to pay for them.

Broken Window Fallacy more completely explained: