UPDATED (3/19/07) – Dooltaz responded to me, and I responded back. It’s at the bottom of the other post.
I received a YouTube message from someone named dooltaz who wanted to respond to my videos on atheism. I have his message and my reply printed below. (I’ll continue to update our correspondence as it develops.)
I saw one of your Athiest Response Videos. It is well done and well thought out, however history has proven over and over again that this kind of “perfect society” that you are dreaming of will never happen.
Plato’s Republic is and will only be a figment of the imagination of a dead man. This is why.
1) You have a very narrow perspective, and assume wrongly that mankind is or can be naturally good. History again and again tells us that there is a common defect in humanity, and the core of the problem is selfishness. Even darwin recognized this concept and called it survival of the fittest.
2) You basically said that you base your morals on a sliding scale, saying that one day something will be right, the next day something will be wrong. How could you hope to practically apply that to society and not have society becoming more and more corrupt over time? Simply consider the overall moral trend of America over the past 50 years.
3) Your thinking is very narrow minded and simplistic. You don’t take into account the fact that people are VERY easily influenced (particularly when it appeals to their self-centeredness), wide-spread emotional instability, as well as vast differences in human intelligence and reasoning ability. Everyone is NOT just you and your college friends, and people may agree with you all day long, but when it comes to act on those beliefs, no one is going to care.
4) You assume that others are willing or would want this utopian society you seem to desire, when in fact most people would rather sit of the rear-ends and watch tv, surf through porn, and/or get drunk. People would rather drown their cares in these methods than work for some fantacy world dreamed up by college professors who have very few real-world problems. They will not cooperate.
5) Because you acknowledge that your moral system changes, and that it is perfectly legitimate for other people’s moral systems to be different than yours in their own justifications, you must hold that all personal beliefs must be equally valid. The problem is that this directly conflicts with your own sense of Justice. Your roomate owes you $200. Let’s say that your roomate has no problems morally for not paying you back. He justifies it by saying that you gave it to him and that since he did not “steal” your money, then there is no need to pay it back. His moral assertions are equally justified and he has not committed a crime according to the “Law”. So how can you maintain a sense of Justice and at the same time hold up all moral justifications as being valid? If society’s laws are determined by society’s changing moral values (most of which come through the media), then how can a society expect to uphold justice at all?
When you look at the consequences of ideas and the consequences of following and applying ideas, you can come to conclusions about the usefulness or futility of such ideas.
So what consequences would your ideas bring. I see that they will lead 1 of 2 directions.
1) The first direction is lawlessness, in which every man eventually does whatever he wants. By your own definition, your moral system will never be the same as another person’s moral system (unless by sheer chance). Because each person’s moral system can not be “better than” another person’s moral system, all you can do is try to influence them verbally while holding that their logical conclusions for moral behavior must be valid. Moral degridation will continue as apathy, drunkenness, and perversion prevails. Then at that point, money will be the center of all justice and authority in the nation as moral corruption sweeps the land.
2) The second direction is a military dictatorship and a harsh degree of punishment under one central party. Authority will be held through fear and harsh punishment. This is more likely the direction where things are heading. Most “free thinkers” as I could only assume you are, want a form of unity of not just the nation but the world.
Why do I assume these two consequences? Because you are embracing both unity and diversity which are paradoxical concepts. Unity is based on similarities. Diversity is based on division. The two can not go hand-in-hand and last. One will always dominate the other.
If unity stands, then conformity to one standard under one set of laws is essential to survival, and if the laws are not based on an absolute moral law, then it must be based on one human authority. Hense you get dictatorship style government.
If diversity stands, this leads to more division over issues, and leads to less and less global laws. Diversity divides people into small gang-styled competing powers that enforce their control of people through corruption and fear.
Shortly afterwards he also sent:
I’m curious? Why do you embrace such a fatalistic mindset? I’m not talking post-modernism, but rather Athiesism.
I think taking what I said to mean that morals are completely malleable is a stretch at best. I don’t endorse this sort of drastic moral relativism that I think you imply. What I am saying is that we should allow the possibility that we can be wrong, and if we find out we are wrong we must be willing to change. This doesn’t mean that my moral system changes with the slightest shift in the wind.
I base this on two things which I think are rather common sense enough: first, that we are born not knowing right from wrong, it is something we have to learn and figure out. Second, we are going to inevitably be wrong about something, nobody is perfect. And we have to be on guard for this, including when we are being wrong about being wrong. This takes critical thinking and constant examination of ourselves and the world.
That my moral system can change is its strength, not its weakness; I won’t drive over a cliff while maintaining that there is nothing wrong with my direction as I fall to the bottom.
In this vein, I can argue that my roommate is in the wrong. I can show others the utility bills and what his share of it is. I can point to the many times that he had said he’ll get the money and did not, specific times that he specified when I should come to pick it up and how he always left the house hours before I arrive (and did not leave the money on the kitchen counter when he got back like he said he would). I can show that he acknowledges his share of the bills by his previous payments. I can point to all the beer and mail-ordered steaks he bought as proof that he certainly has the money. And our other roommates would back me up. Whereas all he can say in his defense is “I don’t have to pay him.” Moral relativity won’t save him; nobody will seriously take his side as morally sound.
I think many people idealize the 1950s as a golden era. I’d say it was not. It was a time of cold war paranoia, bitter racial segregation, and keeping women “in their place”. I would say that we have made gains in morality compared to 50 years ago, compared to 100 years ago, and certainly compared to 1000 years ago.
I see atheism as the complete opposite of fatalism: without a god and guaranteed afterlife, our actions in this world truly matter because they have consequence. Criminals and corrupt leaders will get away with their evils if we don’t do something. At the other end, it becomes important that our good intentions translate into effective actions. We cannot resign ourselves to the belief that the virtuous will be rewarded and the wicked punished in some afterlife judgment.
I think your view of the masses as glued to their couches may be somewhat accurate, but your attitude if anything is fatalistic. It takes time and effort for me to create these videos, and respond to the emails I receive from those who argue with my viewpoint. I refuse to give it up as a lost or unworthy cause, and the responses and encouragement that I’ve received make me think that it isn’t.
I think you jump to black-or-white-only conclusions too readily. You seem to make many assumptions about me that puts me into some far off wishy-washy relativism standpoint. Just because I say that it is possible for someone to validly change their moral beliefs, you’ve jumped to saying this will either lead to total anarchy or brutal dictatorship. I have trouble believing that you’ve actually gone to such dramatic conclusions. Just because I say our moral values aren’t cast in stone doesn’t automatically make them made of straw.
I don’t care if there are many people who are completely apathetic to the world’s problems. I think society can make gains in spite of them. For all the racism, misogyny, and bigotry that existed and continues to exist today, we’ve still managed to bring about more and more equality. I’m little concerned with the couch-spectators and more concerned with those that will work with me for change. And if anything, history tells us again and again that people are capable of overcoming their selfishness and recognizing a common ground. I don’t claim this is easy, I just claim that it’s not impossible.
Dooltaz wrote back:
> This doesn’t mean that my moral system changes with the slightest shift in the wind.
How strong does the wind need to be?
> we are going to inevitably be wrong about something, nobody is perfect. And we have to be on guard for this, including when we are being wrong about being wrong. This takes critical thinking and constant examination of ourselves and the world.
There is a difference between “being wrong” and “doing wrong”. You can be wrong due to lack of knowledge, but morals generally deal with doing wrong, which like you said, all of us do. What makes one “doing wrong” worse than another? Is it when it involves others?
> I won’t drive over a cliff while maintaining that there is nothing wrong with my direction as I fall to the bottom.
Unless you’re driving with steep ravines on both sides.
> Moral relativity won’t save him; nobody will seriously take his side as morally sound.
So you’re promoting group-ethics? Whatever your group believes in and holds to be true is right, and everyone else is wrong? Your example is a clear example of mob-rule. Whoever has the most influence is right. Now what if your roomate was somehow able to convince all of the other roomates that he is right in not having to pay you back. Let’s say he justifies it in some way. Now you’re wrong. So you can either submit to the mob rule or fight against it and lose.
> I would say that we have made gains in morality compared to 50 years ago, compared to 100 years ago, and certainly compared to 1000 years ago.
Yes, you’re right. Moral comparison is not a valid argument. Man has NEVER been good. There has never been a time in which man has been morally pure in any civilization. The 50’s was racism… The 80’s was materialism… I could be wrong, but lately there is an emphesis on freedoms to engage in lust.
In fact this goes to support my initial argument that it is impossible to have a utopian society.
> Criminals and corrupt leaders will get away with their evils if we don’t do something.
How can there be evil when there are no absolute moral standards! You believe in mob rule from your example above. So as long as the criminals are elequent in speech and can convince masses of people that they are right, then they can get away. And if there are no absolute moral standards, then there is nothing left but fatalism and constant waring.
> At the other end, it becomes important that our good intentions translate into effective actions.
What do you measure what is good intentions? Is there a standard for that as well, or is that subjective also?
> We cannot resign ourselves to the belief that the virtuous will be rewarded and the wicked punished in some afterlife judgment.
Yes you can. You just don’t want to.
> I refuse to give it up as a lost or unworthy cause, and the responses and encouragement that I’ve received make me think that it isn’t.
Wait, you said you’re willing to change, yet you refuse to change? You make no sense.
> I think you jump to black-or-white-only conclusions too readily.
Is that a problem? Should Judges think in black and white terms or should they think in terms of overall morality? You murder someone, but you do good for the rest of the time, should a judge let you off? If that were true, then to be fair, everyone would get to commit one crime and get away with it, as long as they were good the rest of the time.
> You seem to make many assumptions about me that puts me into some far off wishy-washy relativism standpoint.
I think you did that from your comments. I just pointed them out.
> There is a difference between “being wrong” and “doing wrong”.
I was using them interchangeably, as we generally act on our beliefs (But Of Course, There Are Obvious Exceptions).
>> I won’t drive over a cliff while maintaining that there is nothing wrong with my direction as I fall to the bottom.
> Unless you’re driving with steep ravines on both sides.
No, in that case you should stop, and retrace your steps back as you’ve obviously taken a wrong turn somewhere. But I think we’re torturing the metaphor at this point.
>> Moral relativity won’t save him; nobody will seriously take his side as morally sound.
> So you’re promoting group-ethics? Whatever your group believes in and holds to be true is right, and everyone else is wrong? Your example is a clear example of mob-rule.
I’m not. I am as against the idea of “might makes right” as much as you are: just because the majority thinks some values or beliefs are virtuous does not make them so. This is precisely why I say it is very important to critically judge our beliefs, because it is too easy to find ourselves in the unjust majority.
Jumping down a bit:
>> I think you jump to black-or-white-only conclusions too readily.
> Is that a problem?
Yes, it is a problem. Because of your rashness, you’ve lumped my arguments into being the same as some whacko relativism philosophy, ignoring the distinctive parts that make them different. You have come to wrong conclusions about what I have said, and seem to be unwilling to accept the possibility that you might be mistaken. A person will never learn anything new if they view every idea that is different from their own as being the same as some flawed argument they’ve dismissed before.
Before I respond any further, I think I’ve found the reason why we’re in such disagreement.
My beef with absolute morality is in how it is applied to the real world. (Godwin’s Law aside:) The Nazis of Germany held a dogmatic, absolute belief that they had the superior morality and clarity of vision, and could not be convinced that they could be wrong. Just as far too much relative morality leads to wishy-washy indecision and a death to vigilance, far too much absolutism leads to arrogance and a brutal, unforgiving form of self-righteousness.
Absolutism is fine if we are in fact correct, but we can’t be sure that we are (although there are plenty of people who will say otherwise). I simply assert that while we stick to our guns, we must acknowledge the possibility that we can be in the wrong.
I would think that the things I have just said are entirely reasonable and that you would at least in part agree, and that we are really just arguing semantics at this point.