Archive for the ethics Category

Disgust, Suffering and Morals

Posted in Atheism, ethics on July 5, 2016 by theicidalmaniac

If one looks at a scriptural account of what constitutes evil, one will find that there are essentially two major categories:

1. LOL

2. Duh

In category 1 we may find abominations like eating shellfish (Lev. 11: 10-12), touching pigskin (Deut. 14:8), or interacting with a menstruating female (numerous accounts).  In other words, the kinds of things we all realize have nothing to do with evil or being a decent fellow.

In category 2 there exist laws like “thou shall not kill…steal…bear false witness…commit adultery” (from The Ten Commandments) and so on.  These are those things which we all (save the psychopaths among us) realize are bad and that we strive, through to the present day, not to do.

Scripture being the confused, contradictory mess that it is, one often finds the case that category 1 sins make no sense and category 2 sins are occasionally sanctioned in order to meet some immediate religious end.  In Biblical texts, one finds God sometimes stepping in and giving murder the thumbs up provided that the victims are adulterers, witches, Gentiles, your enemies’ babies, or people who talk back to their parents or who are caught working on the Sabbath.  In the Old Testament God doesn’t merely look the other way, He actually commands acts of murder and genocide against sinners and unbelievers and, as often as not, against civilian bystanders.  Beyond the OT, one finds similar behavior in the Qur’an.  The opening story of the Book of Mormon finds the initial protagonist, Nephi, being commanded by an angel to behead an unconscious man (1 Nephi 4).

There are a few conclusions to be drawn here.

First, we don’t get our morals from scripture.
Our moral sensibilities are not derived from scriptural texts, rather we bring our morals with us when reading scriptural passages, and actively filter the ancient teachings through our modern understandings of right and wrong.  Were this not the case, we would find the faithful in Nevada burning suspected witches and dashing their babies against rocks, believers in California slaying the livestock of their Wiccan neighbors, and god-fearing residents of Maine going straight gangbusters on the shrimp and lobster industry.  This illustrates clearly that believers have chosen to uphold some scriptural commandments and cast others aside.  Therefore we see that there is some higher moral code that is brought to the study table, and that this code is applied to scripture, not derived from it.

Second, scripture authors confusion about what constitutes evil.
“Thou shall not kill” is a nice sentiment, but in scripture (supposedly our source for learning God’s will) it is both preceded and followed immediately by divinely sanctioned genocide, assassination plots, and terrorism.  If God is able to step in and change the rules on a whim, then a God-based moral system does not, in fact, provide us with anything approaching a grounded or stable morality.  There is no clear reasoning behind it that we can discover, and no consistent textual reference.  A God-based moral structure offers only a turbulent and mercurial system that is unintelligible to humans.

Third, not all evil is created equal.
The sorts of acts that are called evil that fall into the “duh” category are those things which have stood the test of time.  The very reason that they fall into that category are because they are as evident to us today, perhaps even more evident, as they were a few thousand years ago.  That category is set apart from the behavior in the “LOL” category, where there are laws proscribing such acts as wearing a cotton-polyester blend t-shirt (Lev. 19:19).  In one category, we have a list of things which cause grave human suffering, and in the other we have a list of things which might have provoked feelings of disgust in some people, in some time period.  Disgust, a subjective experience, is something that is in constant flux across time and cultures, but suffering (also subjective) is constant.

Suffering, on its own, is universally considered to be a bad thing for those who experience it.  This is why the only stable morality that we can ever possibly have is one based upon

a) the reduction of suffering, and

b) the promotion of happiness

Cause no harm, try to do good.  This is what a reliable morality is based upon, not the whim of an indecisive, capricious being whose plans are ineffable or incomprehensible.

It’s not that you should throw away your God-based morality, it’s that you need to realize you never had one and move on.  #Duh

Go Back to Where Ya Came From, or “Cure from the Common Cult”

Posted in 1st Amendment, ethics, Skepticism with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2010 by theicidalmaniac

The Radio from Hell Show, a local morning show on Salt Lake City’s X96, had guest Vincent D’onofrio on today.  You may remember D’onofrio’s colorful antics as the dude that goes psycho and blows his head off in Full Metal Jacket, yes?  Well, now he wants your money.  Alright, that’s not fair.  D’onofrio doesn’t want your money for himself; he was here in SLC to plug the “Utah Meth Cops Project” and its “Ride for a Hero” fundraiser, to which he has attached his quasi-iconic status.

I love these celebrity causes.  When a face that I trust from TV tells me to write a check, brother, I usually don’t ask questions.  But it just so happens that I had heard of this particular project before…as a Scientologist health care camp.  And before I get into the claims that this Utah Meth Cop Project makes I need to explain the amazing story behind this detox clinic, its precursor NarConon, its ties to Scientology, and why it’s all nothing more than a common and familiar cult.

Aaaand GO!

NarConon

In 1966 one William Benitez, a former Arizona playmate…er, sorry…former Arizona inmate, founded a drug treatment regime based on ideas from L. Ron Hubbard’s book “Clear Body, Clear Mind.”  He called the program NarConon.  Riding the coattails of Narcotics Anonymous, a slightly more legitimate organization that was established in the 1940’s, Benitez was all too happy for the 2 groups to be confused with eachother as Narcotics Anonymous’ good name added an air of legitimacy to the then unknown NarConon.  To clarify, the 2 organizations are NOT affiliated with eachother.  So what exactly does the NarConon regime call for?  What are the revolutionary ideas that Monsignor Hubbard brought us about addiction recovery?  Let’s see, according to Narconon.org, the Hubbard Detoxification Protocol consists of 6 tidy bullet points:

1. Moderate exercise

2. Appropriate amount of sleep

3. Regular trips to the sauna

4. Plenty of liquids

5. Healthy diet

6. Vitamin and mineral supplementation

WOW ! *yawn*

Not exactly a paradigm-shift.  That advice sounds a lot like what my doctor keeps begging me to do, but its from Scientology so it’s more galactically significant and futuristic, right?  THANKS L. Ron!

Ok, so it doesn’t sound evil, actually, it just sounds like decent advice for maintaining general good health.  So WHY THE HELL would you need to go to a camp or clinic to follow basic health tips?    Why spend so much money to go to a clinic to drink water and take vitamins, when you could easily do it from your couch while watching TV?  The truth is that reason people had to go to them is because, as it was soon discovered, NARCONON WAS A SCIENTOLOGY RECRUITMENT PROGRAM.

Oddly enough, to this day NarConon fails to mention on its website or its publications that they are affiliated with Scientology despite the fact that this information has been exposed by news agencies in cities all across the U.S., including the Fox affiliate here in Salt Lake City, at a regular pace for the last 40 years. 

Okay, so they’re wacky alien worshippers who suck people in by presenting successful-looking representatives who dispense engaging testimonials.  So what!?  They wouldn’t be the only game in this town to market that product.  The real question is, does what they offer work?  According to their own website, not really.  I mean, the adjectives hint at cure, but overall they are throwing some pretty low quality evidence out there.  NarConon’s “research studies” list the patients as “clients” suggesting that they were in-house, and therefore practically in-valid or at LEAST in-conclusive, studies.  When I investigated the actual research facility where the studies were conducted, Downtown Medical P.C. , I found out that Downtown Medical P.C. is a non-medical treatment center run by none other than…drum roll, please…the Mormon Church!  Just kidding.  It’s run by the Scientologists.  In fact, according to my buddy, Wikipedia, it was commissioned by Tom Cruise himself to “treat” (translation: “recruit”) WTC rescue workers in the aftermath of 9/11.  NOT kidding.

Bogus treatments aside, even the ailments that they were treating were a bit suspect.  The symptoms they “cured” were ALL self-reported, and mostly subjective.  Even the “mental acuity” and “nervousness” attested to in the studies were not empirically validated by the researchers in any way…no baseline, no way to show an effect.

In fact, there is little reason to conduct a study at all, considering that from a scientific standpoint, the notions underpinning their methods are utterly implausible…but more on that later.

The worst news is that after all their “research” the Scientologists at Downtown Medical concluded that their method of detoxification was not only effective, but safe.  I mean, yeah you’d think a fake treatment for an imagined illness WOULD be safe.  And they certainly did say that it was safe…but I find that troubling, because C. Everett Coop, former United States Surgeon General, had this to say about Hubbard Detox:

“It’s dangerous.”

He went on to say:

“I don’t think L. Ron Hubbard has credibility in the scientific world. The author’s suggestions about detoxification can be detrimental to [one’s] health.”

Other medical professionals from the U.S. and Sweden have found that the program involves the ingestion of hepatoxic levels of niacin.  Now I’m no scienstician, but that sounds pretty bad.  Adding inefficacy to injury, addiction specialists at home and in Berlin have found NarConon’s abyssmal success rate to be “as effective as no treatment.”

So here are my tidy bullet points, presented to you now as “opinion” due to the litigious nature of the parent organization, Scientology:

1. The treatment is nothing novel, proprietary or spectacular, nothing that requires a NarConon membership.

2. NarConon hides their true identity.

3. The supporting research is poorly conducted and the published results are misleading or fraudulent.

4. They use “treatment” as a stage for recruitment into a religion which is notorious for ostracizing its members from their friends and family and who takes money in exchange for enlightenment.

CULT

CULT

CULT

Meth Cops uses the Hubbard Detoxification Protocol, is based largely on the NarConon model and is affiliated, by their own admission, with the Church of Scientology.

Back to our story:

Utah  Meth  Cops

I caught an episode of the Reasonable Doubts podcast  a while back that discussed this detoxification regimen, which consists primarily of giving cops pep talks and then sticking them in a sauna for a spell, and to my embarassment Utah was at the heart of the bullshit once again.  It seems that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff thinks that Utah Meth Cops is a swell idea, and he spent Utah tax dollars to send Utah cops to what will turn out to have been a Scientology camp in Florida to test the effects of the program.  Now I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry; Utah politicians care not for the 1st Amendment.  It’s perfectly fine to mix church and state liberally here…just don’t say the word “liberally,” or you’ll be told to leave America.  The proudly Mormon public official was so impressed by the Hubbard Detox method that, according to local news agencies, he has procured over $300,000 of public money to fund Utah Meth Cops.  Apparently Mark Shurtleff is a goddamned genius, because he saw an effect where even Utah State University’s Roger Coulombe Jr. PhD, did not see one.  According to naysayer Coulombe, a Professor of Toxicology at USU, the premise of Meth Cops is “preposterous.”

 Yeah, well…uh…he’s just a scientists, right Mark?  Ok, I didn’t talk to Mark Shurtleff directly -because his office ignored my email- but I DID consult his Twitter account, where I was directed to Utah-Detox.org, which explained the project in about as clear of language as I expected.  Here’s a rundown according to that website:

THE PROBLEM

Utah officers were among the first in the nation to be exposed to toxic methamphetamine labortories, as if there weren’t enough reasons to be sheepish when telling people you’re from Utah.  The claim is that in the 80’s and 90’s officers were not dressed in protective gear and were thus exposed to harmful chemicals, which I do not doubt.  In “An Open Letter from Attorney General Mark Shurtleff,” this elected official makes the bold claim that this exposure has caused “ill effects” and ties these effects DIRECTLY to meth lab exposure, though toxicologists never have.  Of course, a project that would rid a person of these toxic chemicals would certainly be able to IDENTIFY the “toxins” specifically and the ailments that they cause, right?  Mmmm, well…other than citing headaches and acid reflux (both of which have other known causes) all they really say here on this site is that contact with the unnamed chemical toxins can “make you sick,” and that prolonged exposure leads to CANCER.  While the meaning behind technical medical jargon like “make you sick” flies right over the heads of slack-jawed idiots like me, cancer is a word I DO understand.  It’s very scary, and politicians LOVE scary.

But wait, if cancer is the only ailment they’ve named specifically, and their treatment is supposed to address the ailments caused by exposure, then does this mean that their treatment can prevent or cure cancer?  Are they actually claiming that they can prevent or treat cancer?  It sure looks that way.  But the American Cancer Society – you know, the experts – says that detox methods are not effective for the treatment of cancer, and they have published article after article defending that position.

THE RESULTS

Utah-Detox.org cited some research to give the appearance of scientific support and efficacy.  Participants of the initial trial OF 3 PEOPLE  engaged in moderate exercise, a vegetable-based diet, and a few trips to a day spa.  They reported the following miracles: a sense of overall better health, more energy and greater clarity of mind.  Oh, and one guy grew an extra penis.  I could be mistaken about that last one.

Gee, ya don’t say?  A “sense” of better health!  Clarity of mind!  More energy!  More penises!  I can get all but maybe one of those effects by doing situps or buying a new pair of shoes.  Hell, I get “more energy” and “clarity of mind” when I use stimulants like caffiene, or ADD medication (but only by prescription, kids) which is, ironically, chemically similar to the very methamphetamines that this program is trying to purge.

MY CONCLUSION

No one needs Utah Meth Cops,

least of all Utah’s meth cops.

 

Now let’s make a further mockery of what was already a big pile of bullshit anyway:

So, to paraphrase everyone:

Vincent D’onofrio and Mark Shurtleff, “Scientology, er, oops, we mean UTAH METH COPS, will cleanse your toxins!

Expert Toxicologists, “Not a chance in hell.

Vincent D’onofrio and Mark Shurtleff, “We’ll prevent cancer!

American Cancer Society, “No damn way.

Vincent D’onofrio and Mark Shurtleff,It’s safe!

United States Surgeon General, “Negative.

 

FUCK I’m sick of typing D’onofrio.

THE REPUGNANT

The bottom line is this: Men In Black was an awesome movie, and if you’re gonna sell us Crap-O-La Crunch Cereal, go ahead and hire D’onofrio, a face we’ll recognize from a beloved classic.  He’s an actor.  Whoring themselves out to the highest bidder is just what actors do.  But don’t drag our civil servants into the mix.  It’s bad enough that these cops have to risk their lives trying in vain to keep meth out of our hands, do you have to add insult to injury by exploiting their status to get us to make donations, or to trick them into thinking that you are helping them?

And Attorney Generals should sure as shit know better than to use tax dollars to send people to religious gatherings.  IN FACT, the State of Utah, in a rare act of sanity, STOPPED the practice of sending convicted drug offenders to NarConon after they discovered in 2000 that it was a Scientology front, presumably because using the law to compel someone to engage in a religious activity is a violation of Constitutional Amendment 1, or perhaps because there’s only room for one cult ’round h’yuh.  At the very least, an attorney general should know how to tell the difference between compelling evidence and pure, unmitigated con-artistry.  But apparently that is a little too much to hope for.

You’d think that one of the few radio stations with liberal tendencies would try not to let bullshit artists walk all over their listeners and bilk them out of the $96 they just earned for properly naming all 10 top’o the hour songs, or whatever the hell “listen to us all day” gimmick they run nowadays.  The station KNOW for a fact that when they endorse a product or cause, that their listeners are more inclined to buy or become involved with it.  In fact, that is the very premise that radio is built upon.  That’s why Gina Barberi is paid good money to promote the local laser hair removal clinic.  Advertisers in SLC KNOW that if Kerry, Bill, or Gina tell their listeners that something is the Bee’s knees, sales and participation goes up.  That’s a fact.  So when they kiss D’Onofrio’s ass, and rile their listenership into contributing to his cause, they are responsible for an increase in activity.  They need to do their homework.  Clearly, they did not. 

But then again this is the same station that ran an ad from local skate shop owner, Salty Peaks’ Denis Nazari (whom I have spoken to at length and who I am VERY comfortable calling “batshit crazy” – and marginally literate) giving him a mouthpiece with which to spout bigoted, xenophobic conspiracy theories about a Northern American Union and a Mexican Invasion.  I really SHOULDN’T be surprised and disappointed, but I SO am.

For what it’s worth, I did attempt to call in and really stick it to D’Onofrio, but alas, the interview was wrapping up as my call got through, and they didn’t get me on air, although I suspect that I might have if I hadn’t told the engineer WHY I was calling.  Supporting this suspicion is the fact that, to date, I have recieved NO reply from anyone at X96 regarding this issue, despite having sent multiple emails.  Whatever.

THE FINAL SOLUTION

D’onofrio, it’s ok to be an actor without a cause.  Really.

Shurtleff,  please return to your former political obscurity, as you have proven yourself absolutely worthless.

Meth Cops, Utah-Detox.org, et al, it is time to stop obscuring your identity.  Scientology is still stinky cerebral diarrhea no matter what flowery name you call it by, and no matter what public heroes you try to attach to it.

…and YOU, Radio From Hell…you know where to go.*

*See title

Anti-Choice or Anti-Life?

Posted in ethics with tags , , , , on August 1, 2009 by theicidalmaniac

Recently this question has been thrown around in some of the circles I frequent…although it’s usually phrased as “are you PRO-choice, or PRO-life?”  While I appreciate people’s attempts to ruin a perfectly cordial dinner-party, I have to say I object to the premise of the question entirely.

I’m looking at my blog…it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything.  I had been awaiting some action on my “what kind of religion won’t let you quit” post, so I could do a follow-up, and I have been looking at topics for this and upcoming posts.  Abortion keeps coming up.  I have to get it out of the way, and many people won’t want to hear it.  Perhaps they won’t even CARE, it has come up so often in the past few years of presidential campaigning, and recently in the Sotomayor inquisition.  But I think that my take may be a slightly novel approach to the topic, and I’m going to hit it from several angles (no sexual innuendo intended…or IS it?).  Hopefully, in between posts on the subject I’ll talk about stupid myths that Utahn’s and Mormons believe in, and why they are utterly false, or why I think smoking should stay legal but selling tobacco should be outlawed.  Perhaps I’ll discuss the disturbing trend of pedophiles living next door to every school in my town.  Hopefully that teaser will sucker some of you back later…

But for now, we’re talking abortion, and this is episode 1. 

Why do I puke in my mouth a little every time someone asks the abortion question?  I support abortions in at least some cases, and depending on how my thinking goes in the near future, I may make room to support abortion in all cases.  I’m piecing my arguments together.  But I’m not pro-choice.  In fact, I think taking on the title “pro-choice” is terrible PR.

I used to feel that anyone who opposed a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion was, necessarily, anti-choice, hence the first part of the title.  When you think in terms of choice versus right-to-life, you tend to see things in that light, and wonder how on Earth anyone could tell a woman in this day and age of enlightenment and civil rights what she can do with her body.  It seems absurd.  So absurd that all you do in a debate with an anti-choicer is tell them that they are wrong, let them rebut, and then tell them they are wrong again a little bit louder, ad nauseum.

What I want to do is issue a plea to the “pro-choice” croud to stop calling this an issue of choice.  WTF, right?  I know.  But if we want to make any headway, politically, and win the support of a larger demographic, we have GOT to understand the pro-life mindset, and adjust our position.  Pro-lifer’s very often see those who support abortion as “anti-life.”  This insenses us, but it makes absolute sense.

We want the law to protect abortion, or at the very least we want the law to NOT prohibit abortion.  They think abortion is murder – the unjust killing of a human being.  In other words, they think we want the law to protect, or at the very least NOT prohibit, murder.  And that just doesn’t make sense to them.  Sure, we allow legal exceptions or leniencies for some types of killing; executions by the state, war, crimes of passion, accidents.  But when it is unjust, we call it murder, and we don’t make exceptions.  We don’t protect a person’s right to choose to unjustly kill another human being at whim, and if we did protect that right we’d be dooming ourselves.  So when we claim to be pro “choice,” what they hear is “we want the choice to commit murder.”

It’s nice to attach a cute name to your position, but it’s actually hurting our efforts a great deal.  We need to abandon the “choice” language and begin to focus on destroying the idea that abortion is murder, and to do that we have to ask,

1) is a human being‘s life being terminated, and/or

2) is it unjust?

I say no, but I’ll go into that another time.  Any of you pro-choicers out there reading this (both of you) please consider this.  We have to change the direction of the discussion, because currently there is no dialog, and without a dialog we cannot make any progress, and we CERTAINLY can’t make any converts.