Aug 15, 2007

Utopia and Stranger in a Strange Land

"Robert Heinlein in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND wrote a work of propaganda, which was meant to, and in my case did, persuade the reader to adopt a philosophy that was false." -- John C. Wright at his Journal. [Note: the famous science fiction novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, proposes cannibalism as a virtue. John C. Wright explains what is wrong with the book in a previous post of his Journal. The discussion continues below.]

"And did you start eating your friends as a gesture of respect as a result?"

No, but the libertarian moral-relativism he [Heinlein] deliberately (and successfully) persuaded me [Wright] to adopt, left me without an ability to say what [why] cannibalism was wrong, or polygamy, or incest. His stated aim was to undermine monogamy and monotheism. One way to do this is to feign total innocence when confronted by total wickedness: to ask (with wide-eyed naivety) why cannibalism or incest is wrong, and, if the answer requires any value judgment, to dismiss the value judgment as arbitrary, ergo of no moral weight.

Once one has no confidence in the reasoning about what is morally obvious, those things that are morally obscure become cloudy as well. For many years, I saw nothing wrong with perversion, fornication, polygamy, open adultery, and so on. That was Heinlein's rhetorical purpose.

Heinlein did not get me to be a cannibal, but he did persuade me to throw away the moral code I used to say cannibalism is wrong. Of course he did not give a tinker's damn about cannibalism: it was my judgment, my sense of reason, my sense of proportion, that he wanted me to scuttle.

I submit that the one leads to the other: a moral standard that is neutral on the question of cannibalism is perforce neutral on every lesser standard. I challenge you or anyone to prove me wrong. To prove me wrong, all you need do is give me an argument, starting from a Heinlein axiom that all men should be free to do whatsoever they will, provided it does no violence to another, to show clearly, and without any arbitrary value judgments, why cannibalism of a willing victim is wrong, or incest with a willing daughter, or any other victimless crime.

If you cannot do it, then you have been deceived, and harmed, by the same school of thought that deceived and harmed me: and it is this school of which Heinlein, at least in science fiction circles, was the foremost advocate.

I responded on the above post by Wright to ask:
Was that philosophy Utopianism? This "perennial heresy" is the basis for many hypothetical future worlds where the vices of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride have disappeared (or in some instances, made into virtues). The corresponding virtues of chastity, abstinence, liberality, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility that have been the foundation of prior civilizations are usually ignored.

Utopians believe human beings are perfectible. These thinkers are at odds with REALITY and believe in the deification of mankind. Yet our permanently imperfect society is incapable of reaching an ultra-human state because of the extreme tensions between what we want, what we can achieve, and what is good for us. [You can argue all day on that last one!]

In contrast, non-Utopians (religionists) have a much higher regard for REALITY because they conclude that, if mankind sinned consistently over the past 10,000 years, mankind's imperfections will be disturbingly evident over the next 10,000 years. The root of Utopianism is a great pride, never a good starting point to find truth. Moreover, Utopia is a world where freedom must be severely constrained for the benefit of all. The Utopian must dissolve personalities which individualities are the cause of disagreements between peoples.

Sci-Fi authors, in their Utopianism, regularly insist that humanity will be transformed into a community of saintly scientists and philosophers, all joined together in a collectively high intelligence. [THE GOLDEN TRANSCENDENCE is an example.] In reality, dreams of Utopianism are nightmares where no change can be tolerated within a person's life or within a society.

Philosophy attempts to understand mankind, but science cannot understand the non-objective parts of man's reasoning. Even if science is perfectible, mankind is not perfectible because philosophy is not perfectible. Or if it is, man's weaknesses prevent him from knowing or acknowledging philosophical truths.

I recently asked a professor of philosophy what philosophical ideas were new and original, so that he and others could meet requirements for "new, published research." He laughed and said there was nothing new in philosophy. He and other professors could only write about philosophical thoughts presented and studied in the past, yet with "new" organization and comparisons. I was heartened to hear this old professor insist that philosophy is well worth studying because it contemplates God, mankind, the universe, knowledge, and values.
Original Sin needs to be mentioned here, but others have written more succinctly on the topic here and here.

Aug 12, 2007

The Identity of a Pig

Over 50 years ago, a radio program sponsored a national contest to find the person with the funniest name. The lady who won had the name of Ima Haug. Her original name was something like Ima Huntington, but she married a man with the last name of Haug.

I've thought the name as very fitting for most of us human beings, as the nature of a swine can be compared to both the best and the worst characteristics of the human race. Regardless of the stories of beautiful pigs given large clean spaces in which to roam and root, pigs do not groom themselves (like a cat), eat with no regard for what or how much, always have dirty noses, and defecate in their living area. I too can resemble a pig in being spiritually dirty, especially before I go to confession to ask the priest to forgive my sins.

When I was very small, I hated to have to take a bath because it shortened my outdoor play time. My Mother finally solved the problem when she bought a book with 365 small childrens' stories to be read nightly. The one-page story on my birth date had a drawing that impressed me. The picture was of another little girl who also hated baths. In the story, the little girl refused to take a bath and was punished by having to sleep with the pigs. I was asked by my Mother after the story if I would agree to take a bath, and of course, my answer was now 'yes'.

When I was growing up, we raised a few pigs, so I was aware how dirty they were. Their pen was always foul-smelling from spilled slop and hog manure. Moreover, it was not easy to recover the manure to fertilize farm fields and gardens, as we did with cow manure and chicken manure. So the pig manure had little value, except to eventually fertilize the area for planting a new garden, after moving the hog pen to another spot.

Pigs do have have numerous advantages over beef cattle.
  1. Pigs are omnivores so they will eat anything from soapy dishwater to dirt (which they consume when they find roots).
  2. Lots of baby pigs are born in a litter. I once observed 12 or 13 small piglets born to a large sow on an in-law's farm. Even the sow's owner was amazed that the baby pigs kept coming out!
  3. Pigs grow fast and produce pork chops, ham, and bacon--and these taste very good, especially when I smoke them.
  4. Pigs may produce replacement parts for human beings in the future because of their genetic similarity to human beings (and several other factors).
Pigs are also a problem. In both Hawaii and Texas, residents told me that hunting wild pigs is encouraged. Why? Because wild boars are mean and dangerous, the pigs carry dangerous diseases, and they tear up farmland and manicured grassy areas.

In Hawaii, the native Islanders are allowed to kill wild hogs whenever they want. The native told me that wild pigs cause a significant amount of soil erosion on the Big Island. In Texas, dogs are used to hunt wild swine, although the man I spoke with said good dogs are often killed by wild hogs. The man recommended an alternative method to keep wild hogs from disturbing manicured grassy areas.

He suggested digging a ditch in a nearby area, dropping in a bushel of corn, and covering with packed soil. The wild hogs will smell the corn and come at night to root it out, leaving the unfenced grassy area alone. It would take a while before all the kernals would be found by the wild pigs. The man actually believed it was possible to train the wild pigs to eat only in areas where corn was used as reward. He thought this method would meet the demands of animal lovers who would raise a howl if wild hogs were simply shot.