09-14-07 8:20  •  "Natural Law"

Josh: I think that there are moral truths out there which we can't "not know." The Greeks were the first to discover this.

All adults of normal intelligence have a conscience that reflects this natural law.

There is no single "natural law" that is common to all people's consciousness unless you are willing to phrase it so abstractly that it no longer has any specific meaning. What there is, is an illusion of commonality created by the conquest and subjegation of competing norms by dominant societies and some common instinctual behaviors.

People can then use the domination of their society to justify their position as "natural law" and then use that to repress any dissent from their own position as "unnatural."

Josh: Obviously I disagree. Natural law accounts for our universal morality.

There are so many issues with "natural law" that it is hard to know where to start.

Sociologists have shown that it just isn't the case that there are universal governing principles to human society. "Natural laws" are inevitably picked to support the prejudices of the dominant society.

Many behaviors which are close to universal are the ones which laws prohibit.

Josh: In that case, where are the societies that champion cowardice?

You mean like electing cowards to president?

Josh: : Where are the people who do not seek happiness?

Like societies with prohibition?

Josh: Where are the people whose philosophy is "kill your parents and betray your friends"?

Like "DARE?"

Josh: That good is to be done and evil avoided is something all peoples realize.

If it was then there would be no need to make it a law. People would just do it as naturally as they breathe. But they don't and it isn't a natural law so instead we have countries that invade other countries to secure their oil supply.

Josh: I've seen this before - your position is that there is no such thing as an unjust law because what is just is WHOLLY a matter of social convention.

What a ridiculous thing to say. If social convention can produce just laws it can also produce unjust ones, and generally unjust laws are far easier to produce than just ones. My disagreement is with your attempt to elevate and enshrine simple agreement into a force of nature. It is just as insane as trying to proclaim it the word of god - the end result of such nonsense is to retard the process of refining laws to make them more just.

Over time a culture's mores change and its understanding of what is just evolves, which requires its laws to change. That can't happen if they are seen as immutable natural/deital laws.

Every successful people subjugated the ones around them. Feel free to read up on the history of Greece for details on their take over of the peninsula, colonial aspersions and intercene fratricide.

Josh: You said, "If it was then there would be no need to make it a law." But this doesn't follow. It would be strange if there were places where rape and murder were legal.

There are places where murder and rape are legal by either fact or fiat. Unfortunately the US is becoming one of them. Rape is legal by fiat in our prison system and murder is legal in our legal system, intelligence system and military (the last two also enjoy a bit of rape behind closed doors). Its becoming less sanitized as the people in charge get bolder.

It is not hard to find places where both are completely out in the open. For rape just look at countries where women have no rights and no recourse. For murder look for people who are segregated, like in our occupied territories.

09-10-07 9:11  •  When Friends & Exes Collide

Sunyata: My ex & I have mutual friends that invite us respectively to come out for social gatherings from time to time, but the last two times we've been in proximity to each other she was so hostile and weird that everyone was made uncomfortable. It feels like she's holding onto some gnarly energy regarding me and just won't let things be cool.

There's another gathering this weekend. I've IM'd her a couple of times about it but she won't respond. Should I just ignore her funk, let our friends deal with her vibes on their own and not be concerned?

Personally what I do is let my friends make their own decisions on the matter.
Treat the issue with little concern if they ask so there is no additional drama added.

Be patient with her and don't engage in offers for any "games" in social settings.

Sunyata: So, I left her a VM a while ago today to share my concern and ask her what her intentions are &/or if she has any suggestions for how to make this as cool as possible sans one of us just not showing up.

A few hours later her new boyfriend calls me up telling me he's speaking on her behalf and that if I call her again he'll "take issue" (veiled threat?).

Now I'm even more concerned about attending, but then again, I'm almost so outraged now that I'm thinking of going in hopes they'll make asses of themselves and show their true colors to our friends.

I know that doesn't sound very gracious of me, but I just have no tolerance for this adolescent behavior.

Then stop playing the game. IM'ing her, talking with her boyfriend, having no tolerance...that's all part of the game.

She is not your concern.

Sunyata: I *am* concerned about her vibing all nasty when we're around our friends and making them uncomfortable (besides myself).

How many rude people did you pass today?

How many of them did you IM, talk to their boyfriends, have no tolerance with?

She is not your concern. She is not yours. You have no responsibilities towards or about her. What she does or doesn't do is not your business.

She is **EX** but you are still clinging.

If she wants to vibe all nasty, that is her affair and none of yours. If she makes HER friends uncomfortable, them is between them and her, not you. If she is directly bugging you, ask her to stop but otherwise mind your own business and keep out of hers.

Don't IM her or call her or bug her about her behavior.

I know this is tough, but especially when the other partner is playing games you want to not be involved. Particularly since current BF doesn't seem too bright.

It is over, new opportunities beckon. Turn your head from the past.

09-09-07 10:01  •  Secular Humanism

Ron: Secular humanism is just another religion, isn't it? It's just another set of beliefs.

Secular humanism isn't a religon, it is a system of beliefs and statements of purpose. Since those beliefs aren't a matter of faith, they can be tested and they can thus be supported or refuted by observing if the purposes are fulfilled and the beliefs sound.

Ron: How can they be tested?


Unlike faith, secular humanism cries out to be put to the test and what works kept and what doesn't is discarded.

Ron: So, secular humanists claim they have verified it pragmatically?

No, I said that is how I would verify it. I also suspect most secular humanists would align behind that sort of verification, but there is no requirement to do so. As a non-monolithic movement there is no particular set of requirements for secular humanism beyond a desire to advance humanity.

Ron: If secular humanism can be justified pragmatically, then what's wrong with justifying religion pragmatically?

Nothing is wrong with justifying religion pragmatically. Of course, you end up stripping out all of the superstitious and wholly unsupportible bits, and what is left ends up looking a lot like humanism or some forms of Buddhism, which oddly enough have a lot in common. The Unitarians have already begun this journey.

What is pragmatic justification? Claims need verification. Means are checked to see that they are reaching their goals. Purposes are stated and then checked for progress. Everything is kept as open and transparent as possible. People effected have direct input into how and why they are effected. The overall purpose of pragmatic verification is to find and promote what works well for those invloved and to find and retard what works ill for those involved.

Ron: Of course they include articles of faith. Since secular humanism involves moral beliefs, and moral beliefs can't be proven, and by a definition submitted by you earlier beliefs that can't be proven are faith, then it follows deductively that secular humanism includes articles of faith.

I don't think secular humanism uses moral beliefs as you are attempting to use them. Its morality is not a matter of unprovable ideals. It is more a matter of direct observation of human interaction. So while you may not be able to "prove" moral beliefs as a religious person uses the term, you can see that certain actions bring social condemnation and cause hardship in one's interactions with others and then abstract a game plan to optimize how you interact.

A good example of this - and how it gets abused - would be the Buddhist precepts. They're just a bunch of straightforward guidelines on how to behave so as to not create a lot of hardship (don't hurt others, don't lie, don't take what isn't offered, don't slut around, don't get shitfaced). Unfortunately that is not good enough for the religous and they turn them into moral laws and attempt to impose them through required vows until they go from a guide to a burden.

How much worse would it be to pretend some god wrote them?

So, pragmatically proving moral beliefs is showing they work and do what they claim. Beyond working and doing what is claimed, why should anyone care?

Hetero: You make it sound so nice! Well, don't forget it's all just anti-God propaganda for the Liberal Secular Humanist agenda!

Religious people always go on about the Liberal Secular Humanist Agenda, but they conveniently forget to mention what it is: the advancement of humanity by humanity.

I have yet to figure out why that is so problematic to any good religion or how it could be offensive to a beneficent god.

09-05-07 10:01  •  Sexual Misconduct

Sarah: Swarm -- I have always been curious about the phrase "sexual misconduct" from the Third Precept. I have read various interpretations of it.

No surprise since it is different for everyone.

Sarah: What does it mean?

It's pretty easy to figure out after you cross the line...someone got hurt.

But, like most of life, knowing ahead of time what is too much is a bit more difficult.

So I don't worry so much about what sexual misconduct is.

Instead I think about what makes for good sexual conduct.

Changeling: I'll say. ;-)

09-01-07 9:01  •  Plato's Universe

Cornelius: As a matter of fact Plato did believe in God! In the Timaeus, Plato presents an elaborately wrought account of the formation of the universe. Plato is deeply impressed with the order and beauty he observes in the universe, and his project in the dialogue is to explain that order and beauty. The universe, he proposes, is the product of rational, purposive, and beneficent agency. It is the handiwork of a divine Craftsman (“Demiurge,” dêmiourgos, 28a6), who, imitating an unchanging and eternal model, imposes mathematical order on a preexistent chaos.

Unfortunately, purely rational consideration does not reveal actual insights into the formation of the universe the way empirically backed inquiry does. So we have from Plato a finely written story which reveals much about Plato's thought processes and what he thought about the universe, but little actual information about the formation of the Universe.

In short, his conclusions are no better for being Plato's, or Greek, or really old, than the modern creationist's ideas. There is no "Craftsman" and there is none needed. The universe is sufficient unto itself without deital interference required.

Cornelius: There is no conflict whatsoever between Plato's cosmic "world-view" as expressed in the Timaeus and the empirical findings of modern science.

Well, let's see ... order and chaos are interrelated and inseparable. The beauty he observes in the universe is his opinion and his project in the dialogue of explaining his notion of order and beauty tells us about him, not the universe. The universe is not as he proposes a product of rational, purposive, and beneficent agency. Instead, rational, purposive, and beneficent agency is an artifact of this particular spot in the universe.

In the grand tradition of humans, he assigns what he fails to understand to the handiwork of a demiurge which would make for a pretty stupid "divine Craftsman" as far as "gods" go. One of the interesting points of ignorance brought forth is the notion that the universe is "unchanging and eternal" since a cursory glance should show that is not the case, but this was a common misunderstanding before the development of and understanding of science and of the development of the universe, earth and man over time. The world is not as it always has been and always will be.

Another interesting misconception is that there was mathematical order imposed on a preexistent chaos to generate the ordered universe. This is erroneous on so many levels that it is difficult to address them all. Math is our observation and abstraction of how certain aspects of the universe work. The regular ones were the easiest to figure out and so Plato knew of them. Now we are getting around to figuring out some of the non regular ones. The apparent separation of order and chaos is actually just the separation of our previous understanding and ignorance. Order and chaos are just how we think about a whole and inseparable universe.

The universe as a whole as well as its various parts are not arranged by any external entity. As anyone with half a brain can see there is a vast array of effects which one can choose to see as good, bad or indifferent. While it may have struck Plato strongly that this arrangement is not fortuitous, but the outcome of the deliberate intent of Intellect, the intellect was his own and he had the order backward in terms of cause and effect.

We now know that the complex evolves from the simple unguided by any imaginary deities. Plato had some interesting ideas for his time, but our understanding of how things actually work has progressed and his original guesses are superseded by actual understanding.

I'd say without a doubt he did better with his cosmology than bronze age Jewish shepherds, but you both should join us in the 21st century sometime.

Cornelius: To assert that Plato's ideas are "not needed"implies that "empirical science" has already explained everything.

Noticing that Plato fails to explain what he wished to explain hardly implies that "empirical science" has already explained everything.

09-01-07 9:01  •  How to Meet Good People

Tina: I was wondering where I can meet people that are authentic and honest? I sometimes meet people like that in school, I even met a great person at a bar one time, but that is rare.

Where do you find it likely to meet people that are genuine?

Go to places with people who value virtues and look for the people doing the most work, then offer to help.

They don't have to be the traditional virtues, but it should be something you value as well and usually concern about money, power or control is a good warn-off.

Personally I find fringe groups to be likely spots: tribe, SCA, raves, counterculture and "artsy/crafty" groups, discussion groups for say, the noetic sciences group, buddhists or the unitarians.

Some places have higher hit rates than others, but sometimes the "real" people are concentrated. For example, at a rave there are a lot of people who are there just to party, and I've nothing against that, as a rave is a party. However, to find the party+plus people, focus on the people who come early, stay late, throw the show, and help clean.

It's kind of like in the buddhist tales. Sure, everyone knows about the abbot and crowds around him, but the person to talk with person to person is the cook. Of course he's busy...so offer to do some dishes.

08-13-07 8:37  •  Authentic, Honest Relationships

Sun Li: My question to you: Is it really possible to experience an authentic and honest relationship without first surrendering one's heart and mind to spiritual devotion with complete and utter sincerity?

Most definitely. In fact without all that extra baggage there is more to put into the relationship.

Authentic and honest comes from within, not without. If you chose to be authentic and honest and practice that as how you relate, then that is how you are.

08-12-07 8:37  •  Respect for Ideas

Trinsic: Ok, this could just be my projections. But sometimes I have some really good ideas and when I share them, I feel like they are not being honored because people have issues with how I can sometimes communicate. If you have any feedback for me I would sure appericate hearing it.

There is 1) what you want to say, 2) what you should say, 3) what they want to hear, 4) what they should hear and 5) a certain amount of miscommunication.

The closer 1, 2, 3, and 4 get with the least amount of 5, the more your ideas will actually be honored.

Usually if you feel your ideas aren't getting respect you are hanging out in 1 and your audience is looking for 3.

It can be very difficult to get all those factors aligned simultaneously so Cicero suggested: entertain, educate, motivate.

Adrian: Trinsic, I think you are fab! As for myself, I am reading Swarm's powerful advice and will be applying it to my own communication. Thanks!

Trinsic: Thanks guys, I appericate the feedback.

Swarm, good points, thank you for taking the time out of your day to answer my request.

Jefferey: Actually I disagree. The problem is that we as a society have gotten into this goofy pattern where an individual's Truth often feels like not enough - like it must be defended, or justified, or explained (and understood) to be valid. I say, you shouldn't have to defend or explain your Truth.

Truth is not just a passing pleasantry of no real moment. Truth is something which can pass through the fires of inquiry unscathed. It isn't just an opinion or a personal fancy. It is an accurate description of something actual. An expression of real, justifiable, defensible understanding.

We are constantly assailed by those who would like us to uncritically accept all manner of unproven, indefensible BS as truth.

Never give up wondering and questioning. Even the simplest truths are precious but you can only know that they are true because they are proof against every doubt and test. Anything which requires protection from honest examination is not truth.

Jefferey: But on the flipside, we listen so critically that often rather than just honoring someones Truth as just that, we look for whats wrong with the idea, sometimes going as far as attacking the one who is expressing.

No one owns truth. The honor is paid in caring enough to find out that it is true and thereby making it your own understanding.

Attacking the person is dishonest.

Jefferey: We create an environment where personal expression is risky, we feel vulnerable, not heard or not honored.

This is true of all interpersonal interactions in a group. In a discussion group whether or not this happens is dependent on the moderator and the group's willingness to accept it.

When there are so many varying styles of communication it can be difficult at first to distinguish ill will from style differences and honest disagreement. Discussion groups are perhaps not the best place for when one is feeling a need for risk free expression or instant uncritical acceptance. But as long as we are vigilant and the moderator cares to keep the playing field level, there is no reason why we must tolerate the brutal or those who just delight in discord.

08-06-07 8:37  •  Toxic People

Bryan: So, my friend is now seeing a toxic person from my past. How much warning should I give him? I want to tell him to take the steps to protect himself from this person emotionally. What steps do you reccomend to protect yourself?

So far all I've ever needed is to be forthright and open. All the toxic games depend on one playing along with the petty fears, deceptions, etc.

Bryan: I'm glad, and you should be honest and open, but somtimes that isn't enough!

Some of these toxic games involve intentionally trying to harm someone by telling lies, calling the police, stealing your things, bringing dangerous people to your safe space, having a psychotic break, stalking you, sexually assulting you, or even, in very rare cases, dirrectly causing violence to you or your loved ones. You have to keep these toxic people WELL away from you!

Those people get identified early and avoided by being honest and forthright. They also don't seem to enjoy bothering me and mine.

I also have an offbeat value system so many of the things which people get "hurt" over don't bother me.

Part of it is I don't do any thing to keep them WELL away or draw them near. Both of those generate interest. I just don't engage and I don't have any interest in them.

Bryan: An off-beat value system? Are you saying that people stealing, beating, and raping your friends doesn't bother you?

By and far people don't steal, beat or rape me and my friends and hypothetical dangers don't bother me. Stealing in particular doesn't bother me at all. It is just stuff and I've got so much stuff I give it away and throw it away and it still is piled up all over.

While you can't avoid all dangers, most physical confrontations are a direct result of stupidity, usually from poor inebriate choices coupled with hanging out with people who aren't worth hanging out with. For the dangers which can't be avoided, having your priorities straight and being competent and reasonably dangerous is the best any one can expect. If that isn't enough, you take one on the chin and either die or pick up the pieces and drive on. Welcome to life.

Ignoring things is definitely not what I do. Ignoring things is how one gets into trouble. I'm just not troubled by it the way you seem to be.

Read more in the Archives.