The ethics of deceit: ‘Lying’ by Sam Harris

The neuroscientist and “new atheist” writer Sam Harris has recently released a short book called Lying. It’s a very interesting book which is well worth reading; it’s so short it’s more of an essay (and it’s described as such in the acknowedgments) than a book and very cheap. If you have a Kindle, or a smartphone or tablet for which you can download the free Kindle app, you can get it for only £1.99.

As an atheist, Dr Harris has a utilitarian ethical framework. But this book shows how even a framework which approaches ethics purely based on its consequences can, when consistently applied, lead to stances which are very similar to what the Bible says. In Lying, Dr Harris argues – in his usual direct, clear, calm writing style – that there are very few instances in which lying can be morally justified, and shows through anecdotes and reasoning how much harm to our relationships and to our societies our habitual use of “white lies” does. The positive flipside of this is how much we could improve our relationships and increase trust between people simply by telling the truth when others don’t.

Despite strongly disagreeing with Dr Harris on Christianity, I do find him to be interesting and perhaps worthy of guarded admiration. I don’t like his hostility towards Christianity or, like so many of his allies, his repeated claims that there’s “no evidence” for the existence of God, despite not actually dealing directly with the evidence and arguments that are put to him. I also think that his affirmation of objective moral values, while admirable, is not really consistent with atheism, no matter how much he tries to argue that it is. However, I think one thing that can be said about Dr Harris and his “new atheist” colleagues is that at least they think religion is important and consequential, and, from this blog post, at least partly understands why many religious people are so devoted to their faith. There is a compelling argument that atheist who feel deeply about religion, even if against it, are in a better place to understand the dangers of Islam than the mostly indifferent population of most Western countries. 

Lady Thatcher – death of a formidable leader

So Lady Thatcher has died. What a sad time for so many people. My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, former colleagues and everyone who was close to her.

For all her faults (real and imagined), she was a courageous woman with many achievements, especially considering the sense of despair just before her election that I’m sure anyone who was alive then will recall. Peter Hitchens, in this wonderfully written blog post (and not an obituary-style piece of unqualified praise either; he “[doesn’t] share the adulation” that so many conservatives have), notes “her resilience the night after the IRA tried very hard to murder her, and had succeeded in murdering or gravely hurting several close friends, another moment which even the meanest of her detractors must surely admit does her credit.”

Beyond that, I will not comment on the success (or lack thereof) of her premiership. This is not the time to argue about such things; it is the time to be united in sadness that a fellow human being, whatever her actions and whatever her politics, has died. Politics may divide us, but death is an experience common to us all, which should unite us when we otherwise wouldn’t be united, and there are honourable opponents of Lady Thatcher who have been respectful and sensitive to her family. Even when Osama bin Laden died, I didn’t agree with all of the rejoicing and celebrating over his death. People of integrity may, at most, be relieved that someone has died, but they never actively enjoy it.

All the celebration parties and all the abuse is sadly predictable. Such is the sickness of the human heart that bitterness and division persist even through death, and of course few people have a sense of respect and honour for people in authority anymore. I have no desire to search Twitter for all the idiotic and disgusting remarks that are all over that website.

The hatred of Lady Thatcher is clearly motivated by more than this, but as a general observation, it is certainly a tendency for people, knowing they’re not perfect, to shift the blame for the ills of the world onto two categories of people: the rich and the powerful. Take the current frenzy against bankers or, among Conservatives, the focus on the “mess left by the previous government” as the sole cause of the economic crisis. Yet how many of these people themselves accepted the huge loans the banks were giving out, and used the economic boom period to spend and borrow irresponsibly, just as the Labour government did? And, as a very loose paraphrase of Luke 16:11, if you can’t be trusted with the power and the money that you do have, who would trust you with greater power, or greater riches?

I don’t expect to change the hearts of the nastiest of her critics, but to anyone who feels resentment because of the negative impacts she had on communities and the hardship she caused for the poor, ask yourself this: during her reign in the 1980s, or since then if like me you weren’t alive then, were you doing all you could with everything you had, to help the poor and the vulnerable? If not, then criticise her, but see her as a flawed human being just like you are, and maybe you can join me in thinking of, if not her, at least her family who are going through a universal human experience that you either have or you will go through, at some point in your life.

Jonathan

PostAWeek 2011

Happy New Year everyone! As one of my New Year Resolutions, I’ve decided I want to be more motivated to write stuff, particularly on this blog.

I want to blog more often. So I have signed up to this blog, and from this week on, I am going to post on this blog at least once a week every week in 2011.

I will try to share my thoughts on a variety of topics that I have a personal interest in, and that other people will be interested in. I am promising to make use of the Daily Post to increase my motivation and hopefully your enjoyment too, starting from next week.

See you then,

Jonathan

The crisis in Swedish media (via Cavatus’s Blog)

Great truth-telling post about just how much of a one-idea state Sweden is.

As I have written in an earlier blog post, there is only one opinion that is allowed in Sweden. The "7-party" (nickname for the seven different parties in the parliament, holding the same opinion on immigration) has no problem as regards how to propagate for this standpoint. The MPs have full support from the Swedish media. Both the press and the TV-channels support the official standpoint and do their utmost to function as the megaphone of the p … Read More

via Cavatus's Blog