Saturday, May 28, 2011

Post No 164c: Whose Life Is It Anyway?


© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Back in 2009, we generated two posts around graduation time, You’ve Got to Find What You Love, a speech by Apple’s Steve Jobs, and P.J. O’Rourke’s Unconventional Advice. Both were directed toward our target audience, college students. We suggested some things for them to consider looking down the road.

We try to stimulate thought amongst our young citizens, when their worldviews are still malleable. Yesterday, a couple of us participated in a brainstorming session for a non-profit organization about which we previously wrote.

B.E.S.T. addresses issues affecting at-risk young men. We highlighted the efforts of its founder as an example of how private citizens can do something meaningful for their communities and society.

Before the meeting, we bounced around ideas. We recalled that we Baby Boomers had such idealistic goals. We were going to change the world, right all wrongs, speak the truth (which would set us free), and do nothing but good, positive things in life.

In addition, we planned to transform the world, perhaps through astral projection or Transcendental Meditation, to a “kinder, gentler” place. One of us recalled pledging to become a brain surgeon following JFK’s death.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way. It’s been said that life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans. If anything, we’ve been surprised at how many Boomers have transitioned from card-carrying liberals (and committed to “living off the fatta’ the lan”, like Lennie in Of Mice and Men), to hard core conservatives. (Why have so few traveled the opposite road?)

When P.J. O’Rourke was asked about his transformation from liberal to conservative, he blamed it on his daughter. Upon realizing she was vulnerable, and a potential target of all sorts of nasty forces, he resolved to protect her, at any cost.)

We know hundreds of business people, accountants, engineers, investment bankers, lawyers, and doctors, who abandoned those dreams and principles. We lived comfortably, and did little that we can identify in pursuit of those principles, other than occasional pro bono work.

(A prominent activist in speaking to a professional group once lamented that some of the best and brightest were in the audience, and members of a profession whose primary goal was making money for themselves and their corporate clients.)

Last week, we heard a report suggesting that today’s youth are possibly skipping the self-delusion phase. Far fewer minors, when asked, expressed interest in pursuing goals which might also “give back to the community.”

We’re not sure what to do with that. Virtually every generation seems to think those succeeding will go to hell in a hand basket. After 13,000 years, we still have faith in humankind’s ability to adapt, use our bigger brains, and “be guided by the better angels of our nature.”

We heard 2 stories recently. The first involved a Sudanese woman, who is facing fairly severe punishment. She and some other women committed a crime - wearing trousers in public. Some immediately pled guilty, and only received 10 lashes.

The remaining subject chose to go to trial. She faces a possible $100 fine and 40 lashes. She’s not a professional activist, and had some UN position which would have allowed her to side-step the charges.

Instead, she chose to resign, and waive her immunity.

The other story revolved around the mayor of Kandahar, Afghanistan, one of the more violent cities on Earth. He enjoyed a comfortable, middle class existence in Washington, D.C. for 25 years, until he was motivated to return to his native country and “make a difference.”

He put himself at risk, and returned to the heart of the violence. He said we’re all going to die from something one day, be it cancer, a heart attack, or a car accident. He questioned whether there was any real difference between dying from violence doing something in which you believed, and dying from one of the other causes.

That caused us to pause.

While a 25 year old might see lots of differences, those of us 55 and beyond might reflect on what we’ve done, and whether we’ve made a ”real” contribution.

The Logistician and his best friend were sitting at a side walk café in the Copacabana in the late 1990s, reflecting on what, if anything, they had accomplished... and whether it had been of any benefit to anyone beyond themselves. They had always hoped to able to say that they did something more than “raise a good family.”

The founder of the at-risk male youth non-profit, the Sudanese lady, and the mayor of Kandahar might be better examples of those we should hold up as role models in our society, than the folks to whom we usually direct our plaudits.

Whose life is it anyway? We might all consider making it more than just our own.

47 comments:

  1. ‘Spector,

    I’m afraid that I am the exception to your rule.

    It has been said that a young man who is conservative has no heart and an old man who is liberal has no brain (it may even have been our friend P.J. O’Rourke who said it). By that measure, I find that I have evidently spent most of my life as a heartless bastard -- and that I am now brainless

    The change is not so dramatic, of course. It is simply that I have come to realize that neither major political party provides equity to the working class or the self-employed, and so have ceased to unquestioningly embrace the Pachyderm Party’s blather as I did for most of my working life.

    I really don’t know what I am anymore, so I suppose that I am simply a member of the nascent Common Sense and Compassion Party (est. 2011 by me). We believe that neither should one kill the goose which lays the golden eggs out of spite (the ideological left) . . . nor should one kill his neighbor and feed him to the goose as an artificial growth hormone for increased egg production (the ideological right).

    Sometimes compassion for one’s fellow man takes a while to fully gestate. The trick is to resist the temptation to abandon one’s common sense in the process . . .

    The Independent Cuss

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  2. IC - I am proud of you and all - well almost all who sail in you. Of course this post is on a subject dear to me, and as a 'brainless' 'compassionist' foreigner I look forward to seeing signs that the poor will find their voice and the rich will find their conscience. More later my computer is a little bust. Good on yer Mr Cuss, enjoyed your comment.

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  3. Thanks much CorfuBob for the compliment, although we are not quite sure that it is warranted.

    You see, we rarely express our views on issues; we just raise issues.

    Additionally, the Fellows of the Institute are seriously conflicted with respect to this subject matter. Each one of us has been just about every imaginable character on the continuum.

    As the Laughingman once remarked, "Our generation is still trying to figure out what it's going to be when it grows up."

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  4. Independent Cuss:

    It has long been apparent to us that you are a "thinking man." Few people weigh the competing considerations, and have an appreciation of long-term history.

    We should all be concerned about the lock step rigidity of our political parties in this country, the policies of each which lead us to nowhere. How else does one explain the US being where it is today economically?

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  5. Another thoughtful, and thought-provoking, post, Inspector. And, of course, I find myself nodding sagely at I.C.'s comment.

    I tend to think that doing what one loves, being successful, or even just being good at what you do, is more than simply a reward unto itself. I think these "give back." A person who is not simply "working for the weekend" sets an example for others. A man (or woman) who does what he can to keep a roof over his family's head and put food on the family's table sets an example. These are the real role models, the ones we often ignore in favor of sports stars and wealthy entrepreneurs, You see, they are the fathers and the mothers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters of us all.

    I am a believer, I suppose, in the (Ayn) Randian concept of "enlightened self-interest" where what we do for ourselves also helps others. Successful entrepreneurs build businesses which hire people who then raise families, buy products made by others, coach Little League teams, support local and national charities (even if just in small ways), and help their local economies (which, in turn, helps others to do the same).

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  6. Thanks for the "Like" from Bob and the positive comments from all.

    Now I have a technical question: how did the comments get so out-of-order? Corfubob made the second comment, yet (on my screen and as of right now) his post appears at the very bottom. Strange, and a bit befuddling . . . as one must use the post time shown to try to decipher the actual post order.

    The Independent Cuss

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  7. I noticed that when I made a new comment, it appeared at the top even though the preference is for "Oldest First". However, after leaving and returning, I found that comment at the bottom where it belonged. Replies show up in the proper place immediately.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Independent Cuss:

    On the technical front, one can sort Disqus comments in four different ways:

    Oldest first;

    Newest first;

    Most popular now; and

    Best rating.

    You can choose the manner in which you desire the comments to be displayed.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hmmmm. Lots of stuff about which to think Douglas, which you touched on in your relatively short comment.

    Let us pose the following questions.

    Since the United States does not employ an economic model with one person or committee in charge, and there are NUMEROUS internal and external factors which affect our economic health and status, the reality is that the creation of the optimal economic conditions which lead to positive economic growth is more than just a notion.

    a) How does society determine the "right mix" of inventors, scientists, venture capitalists, employers, employees, etc.?

    b) Is is possible that a large number of our citizens have been just getting by raising their families and being law abiding and not carrying their fair load, when more of them should have been inventing new products and stimulating the economy (without government coercion, of course)?

    c) Have the folks who could have done more to promote economic growth, but chose not to do so, been "irresponsible" in some manner?

    d) Is there a standard or reference point in terms of societal contribution which all responsible citizens should pursue or achieve?

    e) If there is no standard, or quantifiable or qualitative sense of what each individual citizen family unit is to contribute, how do we expect to achieve our stated goals, or how can we criticize some but not others regarding their contributions?

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  10. Maybe society operates like nature - deciding NOTHING. Individuals decide according to their (human) nature, and to constraints like Law, Tradition, Convention etc. The ever-changing result is Society - and many species there are of that!

    If one day more young people decide to take and contribute in a balanced way, or with more give than take, it will NOT have been their society Leaders' doing. But due to people like ourselves who express our own small voices unselfishly. Hope we are heard!

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  11. CorfuBob, there is much to be said for your position. Societies evolve, the pendulum swings back and forth, and at times, at angles, and human conduct and values sit somewhere on a constantly changing continuum.

    If so, why do we have people who claim that THEIR society or is the most powerful, or the most moral, or the most advanced

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  12. They join a particular party because either it represents their views, or they think belonging will enrich them. Therefore it's the RIGHT way.

    If you are American now, your society IS the most powerful, and therefore the best. And also you don't know anything about Denmark, or others in that chilly corner of the world. Will they do for answers?

    I quite like Disqus, for now. As a designer/artist I HATE the spineless books that waste so much of your precious screen. Come and see me on goone-toone.blogspot.

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  13. !00% (arithmetically realistic) with you Douglas. BUT there are the powerful ones who skim the cream off the top of what we do, after claiming all the credit......

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  14. I quote "Yesterday, a couple of us participated in a brainstorming session for a non-profit organization " Talking to yourself were you Inspector? Ha ha, well, you ask for it....

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  15. We welcome (and therefore deserve) anything which keeps us on our toes.

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  16. My feeling at work was that I did not care who got the credit (and there was
    always someone who did nothing or next to nothing who tried to garner it for
    themselves) as long as the task was accomplished. I knew who did it and that
    was all that mattered.

    There will always be people who rest on the laurels of others. I really
    don't give them a second thought.

    --------------------------------------------------

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  17. I think Bob L. said it well. Your questions are good but they have been answered. We call it "individual freedom" and it means the opportunity to succeed (or fail) and the right not to try (or not to try too hard). Are those who just coast along or can't achieve great financial success not "pulling their load?" Maybe. We seem to have too many (47%?) who pay no income tax at all yet do reap the benefits of living in this country. It's sad that people can get caught up in the welfare swamp. I don't blame them; things happen, life goes awry, circumstances overwhelm, and some people have nowhere else to turn. But once in the system, it is very hard to get out.

    Let's go over those questions:

    a) Our system uses the free market concept. People will search for a need and find a way to fill it.

    b) Not everyone has the talent or the ambition or the native intelligence. But they have a right to exist.

    c) No. Again, individual freedom.

    d) No... see above.

    e) What "stated goals" are you talking about? We are not owned by the State. We have no responsibility to support stated goals by the government. See the answer to "c".

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  18. Douglas, you wrote:

    "Your questions are good but they have been answered."

    Are you suggesting that there is only one answer to each question?

    Additionally, are you suggesting that once someone answers any question, no one is entitled to have a different view or answer?

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  19. Neither suggestion was correct. There are often many answers provided for
    questions. You and I see questions as "thought prods", I think. Questions
    are how we trigger logic and imagination in our brains. The questions you
    raised have been raised many times before, I would say. And have been
    answered many times. You were probably taught these answers, as was I, as we
    went through school. We took those answers, applied our own experiences,
    knowledge, and imagination, and formed our own.

    The answers I provided are mine. Your answers, CorfuBob's answers, I.C.'s
    answers and so on may be different but I suspect they have quite similar
    foundations.

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  20. And essentially correct answer, if somewhat simplistic. One joins a political party because one wishes to have more power than a single vote in each general elections. Belonging to a political party gives one a (very) small voice in who its candidates should be. One joins the party out of tradition (family usually) or because they think the party most represents their own political views.

    Each party, of course, thinks it has the best answers. Certainly better than their political rival's.Why some individuals so strongly identify with their party that they react with violence (or near violence) when their ideas or party is challenged, I do not understand.I think that the Inspector's question should have used the term "each party" rather than "one party."

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  23. Yeah, I've been Randian and thought the market would take care of all the bad guys. I've been an asshole and thought everybody ought to be perfect and the best, and when the hard knocks came they ought to be able to overcome and get over it.
    Then I got MY hard knock. and I found out people lie and cheat and beat the system and its a real trick catching them and while you are waiting for all the folks with a rational self interest, and waiting for the karma- a lot of folks get hurt. Why is it the people weith brains that do the most harm?
    So yeah, these days I'm like the Independent cuss....brains are way over-rated. I'll go with my heart.

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  24. Bulletholes: Thanks for weighing in and visiting our forum.

    You raise some interesting points. Back in September of last year, we provided a link to an article we found at http://Edge.org , entitled "What Makes People Vote Republican."

    One of the most interesting statements in the piece was the following:

    "Why... do working class and rural Americans vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democrat policies."

    The bottom line is that when a particular system works for someone and treats them well, they believe that it is best; when that perceives or feels that it does not work for them and treat them well, they believe that it is evil. The Logistician used to say that when he was in business, he was a Republican; when he was an employee, he was a Democrat.

    As with most things in life, views change depending on the circumstances.

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  25. Douglas wrote regarding CorfuBob explanation regarding why people join political parties:
    "And essentially correct answer...."

    Interesting.

    Hmm. Was there only one correct answer? Multiple correct answers, CorfuBob's only being one? Are the positions taken by others "incorrect?"

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  26. That should have been "An essentially"... Parse it how you please, this is
    not math, unless maybe it goes along with "fuzzy math". There can be
    multiple answers to any number of questions. Some may engage in a bit of
    hyperbole and say, "as many as the number of people who join political
    parties." I would disagree but there is no doubt there are a great many
    reasons why people join such things. There might be common ones, such as
    seeking power (if one intends to rise within the party), or bonding with
    like-minded people (probably one of the top reasons), or out of tradition
    (parents were members, grandparents were members...). Each of these reasons
    could be called "essentially correct", could they not?

    Why would you ask that?

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  27. We don't view the world quite like other people. Traditionally, in the physical science world, "correct" or singular answers are more frequent in occurrence; but we are beginning to appreciate parallel universes, where even those "constants" are not so.

    As a popular TV commercial suggests, once you add the human element, the notion of "correct" becomes even more complicated.

    With each foreign country we visit, we become less certain about human behavior in this vast Universe.

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  28. Be careful there, sounds like you are moving rather close to "moral
    relativism". :-) But it brings the thought to mind that your question
    about why one political party might consider itself superior to another also
    applies to cultures. In fact, aren't political ideologies basically
    mini-cultures?

    --------------------------------------------------

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  29. Douglas:

    We had to look up the definition of "moral" in order to respond to your warning that we might be slip sliding toward "moral relativism." :)

    "Moral," according to our dictionary, means "...of or concerned with the judgment of the goodness or badness of human action and character."

    We had to double check to ensure that "judgment" was a key element in discussions about morality. The think that an "assessment" is different than a "judgment."

    We as humans have the ability to absorb information and process it (the process of assessment as we call it), but not necessarily render or issue a judgment, or act on that judgment.

    We submit that everything in life, "depends" on the environment, the situation, the history, the participants, and numerous other factors. We don't have a problem with moral relativism (when it involves action) depending on the situation.

    Some would, in an absolute fashion, suggest that killing another human being is wrong, but would not have a problem killing an enemy combatant if they perceived that the enemy was intent on destroying their way of life.

    Arguably, it's all relative Douglas.

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  30. "Hmm. Was there only one correct answer? Multiple correct answers,
    CorfuBob's only being one? "Are the positions taken by others
    "incorrect?" Corfubob can answer the last question here - Yes!

    Language is the problem here. 'correct' has several different
    meanings. I am sorry IC, but to ask "Are the positions taken by
    others "incorrect?" does not demonstrate the intelligence you
    obviously possess. I suggest you do not become obsessed with asking
    'questions' as if this is the best way to provoke thought. If i
    had time i would make a collection of questions that project only the
    confusion in the mind that asks them. Other questions project the
    dishonesty and corruption of the minds that ask them - such as
    religious questions posed by priests.

    If brainwashing and terrifying young girls into fear of male strangers
    is right - then i am totally wrong, and was a bad father to my
    daughters. But this tradition is 'correct' from the muslim
    perspective.

    The 'Logistician' who was republican in business and democrat as
    employee was, in this respect, simply dishonest, immoral, and
    despicable as a human being if he could not find a moral position that
    transcended his immediate ambitions. You quote him without comment
    IC?

    To 'become less certain about human nature' is surely the only honest
    result of experience, but to be uncertain about many specific issues
    concerning human nature has to be a little feeble in my opinion.
    Some nice thoughts from Douglas, and i hope we hear more from
    Bulletholes.

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  31. "Hmm. Was there only one correct answer? Multiple correct answers, CorfuBob's only being one? "Are the positions taken by others "incorrect?" Corfubob can answer the last question here - Yes!

    Language is the problem here. 'correct' has several different meanings. I am sorry IC, but to ask "Are the positions taken by others "incorrect?" does not demonstrate the intelligence you obviously possess. I suggest you do not become obsessed with asking 'questions' as if this is the best way to provoke thought. If i had time i would make a collection of questions that project only the confusion in the mind that asks them. Other questions project the dishonesty and corruption of the minds that ask them - such as religious questions posed by priests.

    If brainwashing and terrifying young girls into fear of male strangers is right - then i am totally wrong, and was a bad father to my daughters. But this tradition is 'correct' from the muslim perspective.

    The 'Logistician' who was republican in business and democrat as employee was, in this respect, simply dishonest, immoral, and despicable as a human being if he could not find a moral position that transcended his immediate ambitions. You quote him without comment IC?

    To 'become less certain about human nature' is surely the only honest result of experience, but to be uncertain about many specific issues concerning human nature has to be a little feeble in my opinion. Some nice thoughts from Douglas, and i hope we hear more from Bulletholes.

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  32. CorfuBob wrote:

    "To 'become less certain about human nature' is surely the only honest result of experience, but to be uncertain about many specific issues concerning human nature has to be a little feeble in my opinion."

    You are entitled to your opinion CorfuBob, but it is our understanding that there may be "specific issues" in the physical science world (which are extremely difficult to isolate with suspension of all activity), but that they are virtually non-extant in the biological world, since things change every nano-second thus rendering the ability to re-create or anticipate "specific issues" virtually impossible.

    We prefer to think about certain scenarios ahead of time, in anticipation of having to deal with them, but clearly appreciate the need to make a personal call based on the specific factors present at the time that our personal action is needed. We think that judging the calls of others with the benefit or detriment of their situation is perilous.

    But that's an Institute view, not a view which we expect everyone to have.

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  33. CorfuBob wrote:

    "I am sorry IC, but to ask 'Are the positions taken by others {incorrect}?' does not demonstrate the intelligence you obviously possess."

    We don't claim to be "intelligent" nor do we have a need to demonstrate what little brain power we have. We are constantly seeking a better understanding of everything in the Universe.

    As a popular song once put it, we're just squirrels in the world trying to get a nut.

    Thanks for your input. We value it all.

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  34. It appears, Inspector, that you might need to locate a blog template that allows expansion or switch Discus to not offer the Reply option. Some of the replies are thin and long. Even down to a single letter per line.

    Always something to tweak, eh?

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  35. It does seem disqus is broken. Don't doubt your intelligence IC. Morality is surely another word invented, as all words are, to serve a purpose. They so often fail in their duty. Cheating for personal gain at the expense of others? 'Wrong' seems a good enough word to describe this. HOW wrong is certainly relative. Is not the morality of this example relative Douglas? I don't think sliding is involved, but i do think we should be able to claim a position as our own, and be 'certain' - depending on the issue. We can change the degree of certainty later, no big deal.

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  36. CorfuBob wrote: "[I] do think we should be able to claim a position as our own, and be 'certain' - depending on the issue. We can change the degree of certainty later, no big deal."

    We thoroughly and enthusiastically agree with your "change the degree of certainty" characterization. You very succinctly stated what we apparently were unable to do.

    In our view, no one can fully appreciate the "moral" conduct or acts of others without fully and completely stepping into their shoes. As Douglas often says, people enter situations with biases, based on their culture, experience, and worldview.

    The occupants of the world could benefit a tad from assessing and examining more, keeping the process to ourselves unless aids others in the deliberative process, and judging and condemning less.

    There was a counter-culture song out of the early 1970s, which had the line, "Expand your mind; you'll be surprised at what you might find."

    That's why we don't care for hard, drawn, bright lines.

    Finally, our goal here at the Institute is not to preach. We just want to raise issues. For the purposes of this blog, with regard to their thought process, no one is right, no one is wrong. No one is correct, no one is incorrect.

    All views are welcome and have equal weight. Each individual can come away with what they desire, and come back for some more, or discard some, if they later decide to make a change.

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  37. Yes, much of morality is relative to the situation. But there is a foundation. To use your example, murder is wrong. But murder is not simply the "killing of another human being", there are other factors which define it. Killing in war is properly called "self defense", a term which includes the defense of others.

    Without such foundations, moral relativism runs amok and morality simply disappears. When you condone barbarism in a society because that is the "norm" in some society, you accept barbarism as "moral." If bigotry is the "norm" for human beings (and it is) then you will eventually accept bigotry as "moral." That is the danger of moral relativism. That, and the practitioner is fooled into believing there are no real moral positions. Which, I think, is untrue.

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  38. See my reply to the Inspector regarding moral relativism.

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  39. There was also a saying back then: "Keep an open mind. But not so open that your brains fall out."

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  40. Douglas wrote:

    "Killing in war is properly called [']self defense['], a term which includes the defense of others."

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  41. An excellent dialogue going Douglas and IC. Language is a problem as usual, Both christian and muslim leaders in the past have sold their followers the idea of mass murder, by means of language. If a gang of foreigners swarm into your village brandishing clubs, language is not needed to motivate some self-defence, but if the village leaders want to take a party off to overcome another village, then language is needed.

    As you say Douglas, certain 'moral positions' are not relative - child abuse is immoral and wrong, murdering infidels can be called self-defence, terrorism, whatever. It's a language problem. And the word 'moral', if it ever had meaning was hijacked long ago by vicious manipulators.

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  43. Let's assume, for definitional purposes, that one form of child abuse is having sex with a person of a certain age. (Let's also put aside the issue of consent for the moment.)

    We would suspect that in most western societies, the age of 18, or 21, would be the dividing line. However, what about those cultures where marriages take place at far earlier ages, resulting in sex?

    Are those acts immoral?

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  44. This highlights the meaninglessness of 'moral' except as relative to a cultural system. Perhaps pre-teen arranged marriages on the basis that females are extensions of manliness, and not deserving of the same rights in society as men are the way to go for the survival of this species. Then again, perhaps not. Do i know?

    My family has born only girls for the last 60 years. I think its both wrong and unthinkable that none of them should not have equal rights and opportunities as their male friends. Is that a moral position?

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