Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 3)

How do you see morality and societal norms changing over the next 100+ years?

Some of my predictions:

-As land and resources become increasingly scarce, as human impacts on wild animal populations become more and more detrimental, and as society becomes more and more concerned with animal welfare and the reduction of animal suffering, we will eventually utilize technologies to actively reduce wild animal populations without killing them or wiping them out completely (primarily through genetic engineering techniques similar to what we’re doing with mosquitos right now).

-The idea of having something as important and as crucial to your sense of identity as your name chosen for you with no input from yourself whatsoever (and having that name for your entire life) will seem incredibly outdated. As a result, it will become far easier and far more socially acceptable for anyone to change their name to one they prefer–even as children–and for someone to keep the name they were given at birth will become the exception rather than the norm.

-Not only will interracial relationships no longer be taboo, eventually the pendulum will swing in the other direction as interracial relationships will be seen as preferable in the eyes of society at large, as the practice of only dating others within one’s own race will become completely outdated (refusing to date anyone of your own race, of course, will not be regarded as being any better).

-At some point a global pandemic will cause a significant loss of the world’s population. In response, societal attitudes towards disease transmission will change dramatically, with some societies even criminalizing the act of knowingly exposing others to illness.

-As a huge college football fan it pains me to write this, but eventually high-level competitive and professional sports will fade away, as society comes to realize how much they fan the flames of humanity’s deepest tribalistic tendencies, how few benefits they provide to society, and how much of a net drain they are on society’ resources (as popular as it is to bash reality TV or otherwise “vapid” shows for having little to no intellectual or cultural value, I’ve always found it ironic that even the greatest sporting events have basically no intellectual value whatsoever, yet you will virtually never hear any such criticism regarding sports).

Part 1: Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 1)

Part 2: Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 2)

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Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 2)

How do you see morality and societal norms changing over the next 100+ years?

Some of my predictions:

-The accumulation of ridiculously enormous personal wealth and possessions will be looked upon in the way that “hoarders” are today. For anyone with more wealth than they could reasonably spend in their entire lifetime (or even multiple lifetimes), there will be tremendous social pressure for them to donate their extraneous wealth to charity, or in some way put it to use in a way that will benefit society more than it would just sitting in a bank or an investment fund.

-As more people realize and understand that physical attractiveness has no relationship to the quality of an individual as a person, prejudice towards those who don’t fit society’s standards of physical beauty will become as socially unacceptable as sexism and racism are today. Depictions of “villains” in works of fiction will no longer overwhelmingly consist of people that society considers to be physically “ugly” (nor will they be chronically afflicted with dermatological issues) and the disproportionate use of “ugly” actors in comedic relief roles will become rightly regarded as prejudicial, much in the way that ethnic stereotyping in casting is seen today.

-As minors become vastly more intelligent, educated, and worldly than in generations prior, they will eventually be granted greater rights and political power at increasingly younger ages, with minors having fractional votes as they approach adulthood (for example, 1/4 vote at age 12, 1/2 vote at 14, 3/4 vote at 16, 1 vote at 18+).

-As written forms of electronic communication become more prevalent in our lives, we will see a corresponding shift in attitudes towards the inherent advantages of written communication. Eventually, the notion that face-to-face communication is the “best” or “most efficient” form of communication will seem completely outdated.

-Similarly, society will eventually reach a state of total “agnosticism” with regard to various forms of written communication, in the sense that none will necessarily be seen as being inherently more or less “formal”, or more or less inherently appropriate for any particular message to be conveyed. And the notion that online communication is somehow “less real” or inherently less meaningful simply by virtue of being electronic in nature will disappear.

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 1)

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 3)

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 1)

How do you see morality and societal norms changing over the next 100+ years?

Some of my predictions:

-The phenomenon of “word inflation” will become so extreme that hyperbolic language and superlatives will lose virtually all of their impact, yet paradoxically will result in their greater use (since use of non-hyperbolic language will seem so weak by comparison). This will create a “downward spiral” whereby the more weakened hyperbolic language becomes, the more people will struggle to convey what used to be achievable through “normal” language, which will result in people using even more increasingly hyperbolic language out of necessity (think about how much rhetorical value some words have already lost through rampant over/misuse, e.g. “fraud”, “scam”, “racket”, “cult”, “treason”, and “literally“). Eventually this will reach a breaking point when it becomes such a hindrance on basic day-to-day communication that there will be a huge backlash, and eventually the use of hyperbole and exaggeration in everyday language will become taboo in the way that outright lying is today.

-Lying will become vastly more rare and vastly more socially unacceptable, in large part because technology will make it far harder to lie and get away with it (thereby dramatically increasing the social consequences for lying while dramatically reducing the potential benefits). This will happen primarily in two ways:

Pervasive electronic recording and documentation will make it far easier to verify what someone said or did. Even today, home surveillance systems which record everything in their vicinity (audio and video) and store everything instantly to the cloud are commonplace, as are in-car dash cameras which record everything said inside the car at all times. And even now the ability to continuously record audio everywhere you go is cheap and readily available. Eventually it will become trivial to record (both audio and video) every waking moment of your life, and to instantly recall any moment on demand (imagine an inconspicuous Google Glass-type device with virtually unlimited storage capacity, GPS, and real-time voice recognition/commands, and so cheap that virtually everyone–even children–wears one around at all times).

Fact-checking of potential lies will also become vastly easier, even automatic and instantaneous. Imagine that the aforementioned device is also an always-on cloud-based voice recognition assistant, which constantly analyzes everything you hear and alerts you instantly if you hear something which is verifiably untrue (something which is already entirely possible with today’s technology).

Widespread use of the above technologies could create a “virtuous cycle” whereby the more ineffective lying becomes, the more rare it will become, which will lead to it becoming even less socially unacceptable, thereby making it even more rare (ad infinitum).

The effect on “white lies” would be similar as well; the more socially acceptable it becomes to forego a white lie in favor of the truth, the less offensive doing so will become, thereby encouraging more people to do so and making it more socially acceptable.

Eventually, society will become something like this.

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 2)

Where Will Human Morality Be In 100 Years? (Part 3)

Why Does the Media Suck So Badly at Describing Physical Attacks?

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The next time you see something in the news where:

1) Someone inflicted physical harm on someone else

2) The attack involved a hand-to-hand attack (with a weapon or bare hands)

3) Video exists of this attack

…pay close attention to the language used to describe what happened, then compare it to what actually happens in the video.

Chances are fairly high that the journalist’s description will suck horribly, and consist of vague, half-assed, even factually wrong language, even when the video is right there for everyone to see.

Did the incident involve a knife attack? If so, the injuries will always be described as “stabbings”, regardless of whether anyone was actually “stabbed”. I remember one article which described someone who had supposedly been “stabbed in the head”, yet the injury was described as “not life-threatening” (in other words, the victim was not “stabbed”). Then there was the “mass stabbing” at Lone Star College, which was certainly a horrific incident but did not actually involve anyone being “stabbed” (the knife was a razor, which literally cannot be used to “stab”).

It’s even worse when the incident involves an attacker using bare hands/feet, particularly from a law enforcement officer. In such cases, chances are that the description will consist of weak and imprecise language which effectively downplays the severity of the attack, and even potentially obscures the intent of the attacker.

Take the recent case of the Columbus police officer who committed blatant brutality when he stomped a stationary, handcuffed, and defenseless victim in the face, directly into the road. Countless media reports described it as “kick”, not only making it sound far less serious than it was, but even making it sound like a potential accident (which a “stomp” cannot possibly be).

And this certainly wasn’t an anomaly. Just days later, video emerged of a virtually identical incident in Georgia, with virtually identical results.

Or take the example of the David Dao, the victim in the United Airlines case. Countless articles described him “hitting an armrest” (or similar such language), which doesn’t even begin to convey how hard his face was smashed into the armrest, doesn’t begin to convey the severity of the injuries he sustained (a concussion, facial laceration, broken facial bones, lost teeth) and also leaves open the possibility that the contact was incidental, unintentional, or even potentially self-inflicted (remember when the police initially claimed he “fell” and “subsequently struck an armrest”?) Some of the early reports inexplicably failed to even mention him hitting the armrest at all, even with the video right there.

Or consider one of most blatant cases in recent memory, when an Alabama cop used a martial arts-style trip-takedown to slam an elderly (and innocent) man with full force into the ground, thereby inflicting permanent paralysis. How was this described in many (maybe even most) of the media reports? That the police officer “threw him to the ground”.

Pathetic.

So why do they do this? This seems to be such a chronic problem that I have a hard time attributing it to just plain incompetence or bad writing (if anything, I usually see this in articles that are otherwise well-written). Is it due to ideological bias, in an attempt to minimize the culpability of the attackers? Maybe in some cases, but doubtful in most; even liberal/progressive media sources (such as the Salon.com link above) are guilty of this.

The most likely explanation seems to be that these journalists are so afraid that the use of accurate and truthful language would come across as “editorializing” and make it seem that they’re not being objective/impartial in their reporting, so they resort to using these mealy mouthed, vague descriptions instead, in an attempt to appear “neutral”.

Which gets into a larger point, i.e. the media’s tendency to not understand the difference between being legitimately unbiased/impartial and adopting a forced “faux-neutrality” which tries so hard to be “neutral” that they’re afraid to even describe what actually happened, even when it’s a simple statement of objective fact (to describe what the Georgia and Columbus cops did as a “stomp” is not even a matter of subjective debate; it’s simply what they did, by definition).

And by doing this, these journalists are truly doing a disservice to their readership by failing to remain truthful and accurate in their reporting, even to the point that by trying so hard to avoid the appearance of bias they’re actually choosing dishonesty instead.

“I’m Not an Atheist But…”

I’ve been pretty fortunate; after 38 years of living in Texas, I’ve only encountered blatant anti-atheist bigotry in person a handful of times.

And while I could do a whole write-up about what happened in those encounters (maybe another day), here’s what I found most interesting: Most of those encounters were with people who were/are atheists themselves.

Now I suppose I should back up a bit and clarify what I mean by that. Each of these individuals identified as “agnostics” and explicitly rejected the atheist label while they made incredibly derogatory and blanket characterizations of “atheists”… Yet they also made it explicitly clear that they themselves did not hold any beliefs in the existence of gods, thereby being literally “without theism” and making them also—by definition—atheists.

Now I realize what I just said raises a controversial issue. American Atheists President David Silverman recently took some heat after saying on CNN that those who use labels for themselves such as “agnostic” or “humanist”–while refusing to identify as “atheists”–are “lying” (though in Silverman’s defense, he later said his words were edited to the point of misrepresentation).

And I can understand why the “forcing” of labels onto those who refuse to adopt them is a legitimate concern: If someone in good faith explicitly refuses to adopt a label which indicates a particular ideological position (or in some cases, a whole slew of ideological positions), it’s poor form to force that upon them and essentially say “No, you do subscribe to that ideology (or set of ideologies), despite the fact that you claim not to.” (I add the “in good faith” modifier to make exceptions for cases where the rejection of a label is blatantly self-serving and disingenuous, e.g. white supremacists who reject that label).

But comedian Aziz Ansari provided a counterpoint recently, when he said, regarding feminism:

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And I’m inclined to agree as far as feminism is concerned (though of course, the overwhelming majority of those who reject the feminist label tend to have a pretty skewed definition of what the word means).

But notice that the point Ansari makes regarding feminism also applies to the “atheist” label, and even more so. Because atheism isn’t an ideology at all; there isn’t an associated set of beliefs, principles, doctrines, etc. which comes along with the adoption of the term. To be an atheist simply describes your lack of belief on one specific point—the existence of gods. And provided that someone has made clear their position on that one issue, to describe them as an “atheist” isn’t even really a matter of subjective discussion, but rather a simple statement of fact according to their own stated position.

Really, I’m not even sure “label” is even the right term to use when it comes to the word “atheist”. If you describe someone as being “left-handed” because they write with and predominantly use their left hand for fine motor tasks, are you “labeling” them as a left-hander, or are you simply referring to them as what they are by definition? What of describing someone who holds U.S. citizenship as being an “American”? Or someone who has two legs and walks upright as being “bipedal”?

Provided that someone in their own words professes that they don’t believe in the existence of any gods, how is it any different to call them an atheist?

It’s really not.

Yet as simple as this may seem, even brilliant people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who can be right on virtually every other issue, manage to get it horribly wrong.

Now it’s important to note that this logic doesn’t necessarily apply to other terms which are often used synonymously with “atheism”. Humanism, for example, actually does entail a set of principles and ideological positions, and is far more than simply an objective descriptor of one’s position on one specific issue. So it makes sense that if someone chooses to explicitly reject the “humanist” label/identity (for example, if they disagree with certain humanist principles, even if they agree with the overwhelming majority of the rest), it would be wrong for others to ascribe that label to them against their wishes.

But to call someone an “atheist” who–according to their own words–doesn’t believe in the existence of any gods? It’s simply expressing a tautological truth, like calling a doctor who treats skin diseases for a living a “dermatologist”, and no matter how much they may dislike the use of the word it doesn’t change the fact that they are one.

Sacrificing One’s Soul

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“I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.” –The Operative, Serenity 

What if you sacrifice your soul—by condemning yourself to Hell—in order to save other people from going to Hell?

It’s a nearly universal truth—held by the religious and non-religious alike—that to willingly sacrifice your life to save the lives of others is commendable, even possibly the greatest of all moral acts. But I can’t say I’ve ever heard the same logic applied with regard to Hell.

Consider if someone subjects themselves not just to death, but to an eternity of torture in order to save others from meeting that same fate. Isn’t that at least equally commendable as someone sacrificing their life? Perhaps even infinitely more commendable, considering that Hell is infinitely worse than death? (One obvious question is whether a “just” God would even send someone to Hell for doing so, but for purposes of this discussion let’s assume he would).

In my last post I discussed how the absurd premises of Heaven and Hell—as traditionally understood—lead to equally absurd conclusions when taken to their logical conclusions, and essentially lead to the inescapable conclusion that the ends ALWAYS justify the means when it comes to “saving souls”. And infinitely so, meaning that ANY act, no matter how evil, is perfectly justified—even morally obligatory—if it saves just one person from Hell.

Of course, the obvious counterargument would be that God wouldn’t WANT us to lie, kill, steal, etc. in order to “serve him”, even if the goal is to save souls. After all, how can someone specifically violate what is forbidden by God in order to serve God? Well, this is exactly why.

Let’s say God disapproves of you doing so, and punishes you with Hell (perhaps even a special level of Hell). That doesn’t change the inescapable reality one iota that you are still doing an infinitely greater good by disobeying God, providing that doing so results in even one soul being saved. Which means that lying for Jesus, or even The Inquisition, are logically justified and perfectly rational given those initial premises of traditional Christianity.

But just as you’ll never hear a follower of traditional religious systems admit to it, I’ve never heard anyone describe the notion of “sacrificing ones soul” as being commendable, much less on par with the sacrificing of one’s life to save others.

And this isn’t a purely theoretical exercise with no real-world implications. Thankfully, as is the case with almost any religious doctrine whereby virtually nobody takes them as seriously as they should if they truly believe them, virtually nobody takes the infinite nature of Heaven and  Hell to its logical conclusion and operates according to the logic I’ve outlined above, and thankfully so.

But some do.

Consider Christian terrorists and their attacks on (even murders of) abortion providers and those affiliated (or in some cases, simply present at) them. These murderers rationalize their acts to be the morally justifiable saving lives of “children being murdered”, and fully sanctioned by their God. Or, as in one recent case, they can use their belief in “once saved always saved” to ensure they’re still going to Heaven regardless of whether the murders were wrong.

Either way, their fate in Heaven is fully assured.

The same goes for Islamic terrorists, who rather than going to Hell for murdering innocent people, claim they will actually be rewarded in the afterlife for it.

At the top of the page I quoted the movie Serenity because of its incredibly rare example–in fiction or in reality–of someone admitting to committing evil in order to serve a greater good (without that evil somehow “becoming” good). It’s about as clear cut an admission of willingly “sacrificing one’s soul” as you will ever see, as opposed to those who typically try to rationalize and justify the evils they commit, thereby rendering them no longer “evil”.

Unfortunately, in the real world, I have yet to see anyone being so honest about this gaping flaw in their theological beliefs.

Why, When it Comes to Religion, the Ends ALWAYS Justify the Means

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One of the great philosophical debates (and the first thing you learn in any Intro to Philosophy class) is about deontological vs. utilitarian morality: Are “right” and “wrong” a result of certain actions being inherently right or wrong (killing and stealing are wrong in principle) or is it determined based on the consequences of those actions (killing and stealing are wrong because of the harm they do to others)? Or, in even more simplified form, when it comes to “right” and “wrong” do the ends justify the means?

Traditionally, these two approaches to morality seem to line up pretty closely with debates surrounding religious vs. secular morality. Either we should obey the commandments because God commands us to, since through his divine authority he has determined what is “right” or “wrong” via cosmic fiat, and going against those divine dictates is, quite simply, wrong (Euthyphro’s Dilemma be damned), or we should follow secular/humanistic ethics, which generally consider right/wrong to be based on the real-world consequences of our actions, meaning in some cases it may be permissible–even morally obligatory–to perform acts which may otherwise be considered “immoral” (a parent stealing medicine to save the life of his child, for example).

Traditionally, this leads to the notion that secular/humanistic/utilitarian ethics means that the ends justify the means, and as long as the final outcome is beneficial the methods you use to get there are ultimately irrelevant (think Watchmen’s Ozymandias).

But it seems to me that in a way, this dichotomy is precisely backwards, and not only do the “ends justify the means” when it comes to traditional religious morality, but they do so to a literally infinite degree, and that’s for one reason: Because the traditional concepts of “Heaven” and “Hell” introduce the element of infinity to the equation, with notions of everlasting infinite torment or everlasting infinite bliss; and when you perform the cost/benefit analysis on anything involving infinity, the answer is always similarly infinite (math nerds like me might point out exceptions like series of infinite sums which converge on finite numbers, but obviously that doesn’t apply in this case).

So what does that mean? It means that any amount of harm you do to anyone—lying, killing, even torture or mass murder—pales in comparison to the harm you can inflict on someone by causing them to go to hell. Infinitely so. Even increasing the odds of someone going to Hell by a miniscule fraction of a percent is still a transgression of infinite harm, since even .00001% of infinity is still infinity.

And the same goes for heaven; no matter how much good you may do in the world, it will be infinitely trivial compared to even one act which increases the odds of someone reaching Heaven.

Even more disturbingly, the flipside is also true: any action, no matter how abhorrent, is perfectly acceptable in the Heaven/Hell equation, and the ends ALWAYS justify the means provided that the end goal is helping others reach heaven or avoid hell since that end goal is literally a positive of infinite value.

Of course thankfully, with the exception of religious extremists, nobody really applies this logic to their day to day lives, or actually considers these implications and takes their beliefs to the logical extreme.

And we all should hope it remains that way.

Follow-up: Sacrificing One’s Soul