March 2, 2013
We are sinners all; hypocrisy as a virtue.

Hypocrisy has always been one of the cardinal vices of the individual. No tort or trait elicits such a censorious and emotional reaction as he who promotes higher principles than his own. One needs not look further than how we have contrived our lowest characters, from Iago to Tartuffe, from the Pardoner to Elmer Gantry; yet the hypocrisy of these individuals only exists and is exprobrated in the dimension of social structural relations. Iago’s hypocrisy inheres relatively to Othello and Desdemona; Tartuffe’s relative to Orgon and Elmire, that of the Pardoner and Elmer Gantry to their respective disciples. Yet hypocrisy is stigmatised in the individual, not in the society, even in situations where the ‘moral’ rectitude of the society is dubious. Hypocrisy trivialises all other sins.

Yet as individuals our urges are illimitable. They extend far beyond what social mores dictate, and this is true of all of us. They are repressed on a social level, and little engenders more controversy than when these urges come to the fore. When it does, nevertheless, who can say he sympathises not with Humbert but Quilty? Hypocrisy is viewed as a mitigating factor in an individual, and in intrapersonal and dual interpersonal relations. The inclusion in the closing words of ‘do not pity CQ’ is an oft-overlooked reminder that, while these urges will always exist, one must choose between hypocrisy and overt inhumanity. Between ego and id, between society and the individual. In order to maintain order, we did not evolve as individuals but as societies. It has never been necessary - evolution not being teleological - to eradicate these tendencies on an individual level. As a society, we act on the conscious level of the individual and restrain these tendencies; as individuals, we are our worst. The misanthrope is not notably collected.

Why, then, do we reserve this singular disdain for he who maintains order while being allzumenschliches? We refuse to acknowledge that the visible hypocrite is simply caught between the criminal and the dissembler, on a spectrum on which we all place. Our misconception, clear throughout all of religion and historical psychology, is that our shadow can be expiated and atoned for on an individual level. The choice is between hypocrisy and repudiation of all that is valued. The judge-penitent affirms humanity - il forniquait mais il lisait des journaux; hypocrite lecteur - mon semblable - mon frère!

July 2, 2012
Aim above morality (an attack on morality & ethics in eristic).

It is as easy to aver that morality supports one’s beliefs as to say anything else with the same amount of words; nowadays, the assertion of morality demands neither debate nor definition, but merely acquiescence. It must be noted that morality is a human construct, deontologically peremptory or not, and is not inherent in life, meaning that a logical basis must be established for a system of morality before it is in any way postulated, and moral system which suffices to establish an eristical basis must first be accepted and be tenable in all situations. In order to mount my attack on morality, I will first deconstruct some of the major moral systems, during which it must be noted that any shortcoming in a certain situation wholly negates the validity of the system, as a moral system which cannot make consistent moral judgments is not a moral system at all. 

I will begin with the deontological morality of the religious faiths, which is impossible to follow as primarily one must be asseverated as the bearer of morality above the two others, which, along with even affirming the celestial teapot, is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes. Moreover, if one religion did preponderate, then we would be forced to reconcile, for example, lex talionis, as Christianity and Judaism propound in Exodus 21:24, and Islam propounds in Surah 5:45, with our innate beneficence, which can only, as Mohandas Gandhi platitudinised, render the whole world blind. Such laws raise the question of whether these laws and our vague notion of what is good, being proved by our many attempts as a species at ethical theories, can conciliate.

Abrahamic deontology is further vitiated by the application of the Euthyphro dilemma, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro whether what is moral is moral because the gods declare it so, or if there is something which is morally good which is liked by the gods. If the former is assumed, then, as Bertrand Russell designates in his peerless Why I Am Not A Christian, ‘for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good,’ yet if the latter is assumed, then deontological ethics are nullified because there is clearly a separate moral standard by which God decrees his desiderata. Also, if the latter is fulfilled, then there is clearly a summum bonum in search of which all else can be abandoned, including free will, which would refute the most central religious notion of theodicy. On a more simple and less philosophical issue, the question of how the scriptures, our only idea of God, should be correctly interpreted renders most moral dilemmas insoluble by way of deontological ethics.

To continue, utilitarian ethics, while much less fallibly loquacious than deontological ethics, face their own problems. For one, utilitarianism has no way of enshrining, and does not enshrine, the basic rights of man, such as the right to life, to freedom of speech, to freedom of thought, to freedom of assembly, to freedom of press, and much more. The major problem, the crux of the failure of utilitarianism, is the simple infeasible demand that it makes on one to be knowledgable of, and make a mathematical appraisal of, all of the possible consequences of their actions, and their Bayesian probability, for each of our actions. I shall call this the Raskolnikovian problem, a problem which renders utilitarian ethics impossible on a practical basis, and quite likely impossible on any basis; even if these calculations are codified in the felicific calculus and are reified into hedons and dolors, the calculation itself is practically impossible, even with infinite time and resources, when the possible consequences are infinite. This is exacerbated by the notion that we can be held responsible for the actions of others through the implications of our conduct on theirs, as Ivan Karamazov realises, and therefore we must ascertain the utilitarian morality of all of our most trivial actions, which can have scope beyond their scale.

The reciprocal theory of ethics, often phrased as the Golden Rule (doing unto others what you would wish them to do unto you), is another ethical standard from which many derive their morals. It is also fatally flawed, unfortunately, by the simple quandary of individual desires; while often characterised as the seemingly superficial, even semi–jocular, problem that we would not want a masochist applying this rule, the notion can pose problems on a much larger scale. Reciprocal ethics stumbles also in that it assumes that we know what is best for ourselves (and therefore best for others) when in reality, this assertion is dubious at best. Also, the reciprocal theory of ethics is indifferent to differences in situation; Immanuel Kant’s famous criticism asks if a convicted prisoner could appeal their sentence to the judge and jury, asking if they would wish to be treated in the same way. 

Penultimately, and sequacious to Kant’s last animadversion, Kant’s categorical imperative beseeches us to, as he himself phrased it, act only according to the maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should be a universal law. Most ethical theories that can wholly affirm per se the actions of, for lack of a less clichéd example, Adolf Hitler, must necessarily find themselves in a less than desirable predicament. In other words, the categorical imperative puts all of morality in the hands of the individual, which portends that it isn’t an ethical theory at all, but merely a regress to an amoral state of nature. Moreover, Constant’s criticism, known as the inquiring murderer, impugns the categorical imperative by asking whether, if lying is wrong and is according to the categorical imperative therefore proscribed universally, one should tell a known murderer the location of his quarry. 

As the last of the major ethical constructs, moral relativism is, though previously popular amongst intellectual circles, commonly derided for justification of historical tortfeasance, and, beyond facing the same Hitler problem as Kant’s categorical imperative, faces the issue that in saying that all moral frameworks are relative, it derogates from this in acting as an absolute moral framework, and can only be excused from this if it propounds the decidedly more arbitrary asseveration that all moral frameworks except moral relativism are relative. Another problem with moral relativism is implied in how far we extend the morally relativist philosophy; cultural relativism is questionable in that interceding and holding cultures culpable for their actions would be wrong if on the regnant morality allowed it, but if moral relativism were taken ad absurdum to a logical extreme, would dictate that no individuals could be reprimanded for their actions in any way. 

Having highlighted the issues in these moral systems, it must at this point be asserted that even the aforementioned remonstrances were superfluous, in that until a moral system assumes total precedence above others, beyond establishing credence for itself, the appeal to morality in argument is disingenuously fallacious, and axiomatically invalid. Until that point, no Cartesian provisional ethics can be assumed without evidence of the same standard, and therefore the pursuit of knowledge, studium scientia, is the only way in which to comport oneself with probity and decency. 

April 22, 2012
Die Konylösung (or, cash for karma).

Last night, the Kony campaign definitively failed to cover London in posters denouncing Kony; I witnessed a few around Bond Street, and felt beholden to remove them myself; why? The Kony 2012 campaign is fundamentally wrong. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that Kony 2012 and the intention of saving lives and upholding the fabric of society are not one and the same. It is deleterious to intertwine one concept with absolute morality, as was done with the events of September 11 (on both sides of the debate), as was done with the Crusades (on both sides of the debate), as was done with World War I (on both sides of the debate). It is not difficult to witness the pattern emerging. Without extricating our side of the argument from the ‘favour’ of innate morality, it is infeasible to have an unobfuscated and lucid view of an idea.

One reason I disagree with Kony 2012, as it has been branded, is that the entire campaign is based on the assumption that the West knows what’s best. We are able to run society effectively, as we did in the imperial/colonial days, and what we think is right for us, is right for a country the other side of the equator and millions of culture–miles away from us. We have a vague notion from, often, a few sentences, that we can descry Joseph Kony doing Bad Things, and we apply this notion to a serious campaign to bring Kony to ‘justice’ according to Western ideals, much like the famous attempts of American law firms to apply the stipulations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to countries across the globe. It is little wonder that those in the third world perceive the West as having a bumptious and purblindly parochial worldview.

Another reason is that the likely results of this (especially when further paragraphs are considered) will disillusion the young people who have helped to fan the flames of the campaign as to the real efficacy of human rights groups such as Amnesty International, who have campaigned indefatigably for aeons for the rights of humans around the globe, and have not just sprung up desultorily around a comparatively recondite issue; indeed, Amnesty International’s response to the campaign was (rightfully) much more tepid. It oversimplifies the issue, as Rosebell Kagumire says in her video, to one man - no war is this simple, and certainly not this one.

The third reason I cite, and arguably the most poignant, is that Invisible Children have become a company with their own agenda. They have produced their own documentary, built up their persona to the point of driving their CEO to public debauchery, and striven to paint themselves as the face for the Kony campaign. This is not how things should be; Amnesty International have been campaigning for the arrest of Kony for years without rebranding, and Invisible Children’s effort to arrest Joseph Kony is leading to media debacles that draw attention away from the matter actually at hand; the arrest of Joseph Kony, the first name of whom is not known by many, which says a lot about IC’s branding of the campaign.

Having said this, the immediate arrest of Joseph Kony is not the huge matter it claims to be. While it is, of course, of considerable importance, all reputable sources suggest that Joseph Kony has not been in Uganda for a number of years; most sources agree that the figure is likely to be around half a decade. At around fifteen minutes in Invisible Children’s latest, most prominent, and non-eponymous documentary film, it is mentioned in passing that Joseph Kony (and the Lord’s Resistance Army) have not been in Uganda for years.

Beyond this, he is often likened to Adolf Hitler (a popular fallacious tool of rhetoric), and subject to cheap antagonisation. The Kony problem is gone; the Kony solution is not needed. The children affected by Kony at the height of the LRA’s power, when Invisible Children was painfully absent, are now prostitutes and disease-ridden teens on the streets of Gulu, and other parts of Uganda.

This is not what debilitates Invisible Children’s effort; this is what negates the purpose. With regard to the effort, it is clear that Invisible Children’s finances are ‘shady’ at best; it spends a lot of money on film-making as opposed to visible work, and has never been externally audited. I wouldn’t be the first to say that it is unwise to donate to a charity that you wouldn’t invest in if it were a company. In addition to this, it has no clear aim beyond raising lots of money and arresting Kony; few who donate even have any cognisance of where the money is going, apart from making more films to draw more attention. It would be objectionable but honest to say that Kony 2012 is a charitable Ponzi scheme with no clear end-result.

It is too easy to become swept up in a storm of sanctimony; it is harder to disalign yourself with absolute morals and regard the Kony 2012 campaign for what it is; a rather murky campaign that seeks to arrest a man who is no longer an active threat, by using age-old footage and is in a state where its finances are as invisible as the metonymic children, yet many don’t mind and are happy to donate for no apparent reason. It is easy to regard Kony as Hitlerite for his violence and purported evil; it is harder to regard Invisible Children as equally Hitlerite for their use of empty rhetoric and peer pressure to press an unclear agenda portrayed as necessary moral action. First they came for Kony.

April 9, 2012
The ethics of profiting from disaster.

I’ve just watched a television show about the possibility of personal satellites (in that they could cost under £100,000), and I couldn’t help wondering if TEC analysis for earthquakes/tsunamis could be performed by privately-owned companies (or indeed individuals) before anybody else, and the possibilities if that were true. One could, for example, purchase a CDS on cat bonds for the region in which one has predicted a natural disaster, and then pay a disproportionate premium for the true risk, leading to exponential profit. If one informs the necessary authorities shortly after this ten-minute process has finished, it is hard to reason why (especially seeing as it would still be better than no information at all) this would be perceived as immoral; however, it would likely be perceived as immoral - why? In the CDS insurance market, one would only be facilitating somebody else’s desire to sell a CDS, and all participants would be speculators (except for the odd few hedging on strange bond positions). The sociological effects of the natural disaster would in no way be exacerbated by your financial decision; nobody would lose money except by their own decision, and those buying a CDS in order to bet against natural disasters are not, as many believe with allusions to pre-Lutheran ecclesiastical structure, buying good karma. The only possible outcome is that one would be buying the CDS from the seller without the seller being fully informed; but, in a speculative market, that is the nature of the game, and is nevertheless certainly not what seems to initiate the feeling of tortfeasance. It serves wholly to illustrate that human psychology is difficult to comprehend.

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