Ethics, Morals, and Religion

Another “blast from the past” ported over from my old Livejournal blog:

I have often been asked, by folk who are believers in one religion or another, “How can you say ‘this is right’ or ‘that is wrong’ without a God to determine it.”

Let’s look at that.  Let’s start from the traditional Christian perspective of an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God setting the rules for what is right and wrong.  The conclusions I draw don’t need that, simply powerful, knowledgeable, and well-disposed to the happiness and welfare of people is sufficient.

The first thing that comes to mind is that this God would have to establish a set of rules that works; that, if followed, leads to the happiness and welfare of the people who live by it.  Anything else would violate the “all-loving” concept.  In fact, such a system would have to be the very best in terms of the welfare and happiness of the people living under it otherwise God would be setting up a system where people have less happiness, or worse welfare, than they would have with a different system.  Doing so would have to be a deliberate choice, since an all-powerful God could establish any rules that God desired and that God, being all-knowing, would know that one system leads to greater happiness and better welfare than another.  Establishing a set of rules that are less than best for the happiness and welfare of the people who follow it, certainly, is not something an all-loving God would do.

This does not mean that the system will be devoid of painful aspects.  In medicine, an inoculation can be painful, but it’s far less painful than whooping cough or rheumatic fever.  So there’s every reason to expect part of the moral and ethical system to include aspects of “You’ve got to do this unpleasant thing to avoid more unpleasantness down the road.”

Also, an all-knowing God would know that some people would not follow the prescribed code, would, in fact, know exactly which people would make exactly what violations of the code and when they would make them.  And part of the code would be the need to deal with this.

Once you have established that the moral and ethical rules established by an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God would be one that would best lead to the welfare and happiness of people who follow it, it then follows that the rules themselves are as much advice as commandment: “touch not the flame lest ye be burned.”

And, once you recognize that an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God must have established a set of moral and ethical rules that lead to the greatest happiness and welfare for the people living under it, on no longer needs to invoke God as a reason for such rules.  In much the same way that science looks at how the world behaves and deduces the rules by which atoms combine, planets move, or the rains fall, so too can we look at how people and societies behave and deduce rules by which the greatest happiness and welfare come to be.  Societies that behave “this” way are happier and more prosperous than societies that behave “that” way.  “This” person may be happier than “that” person but only by harming “those people over there.”

This is usually the point where certain religious people claim “how can you know that your right and wrong are actually right and wrong?  Suppose something you think is better comes along later?”

Something better comes along later?  Great!  Since God’s plan would be, by definition, the best plan, the one that leads to the greatest happiness and the best welfare, anything better that comes along later means we are correcting a misunderstanding of God’s will and coming closer to His divine plan.

This means is that any “true” moral and ethical code can be argued on the basis of its effects.  If the effects are “good” in terms of the happiness and welfare, taking into account both long term effects and the effects of one person’s actions on another, then it’s a good system.  If they aren’t, it isn’t.  You don’t need to invoke God to make that determination any more than you need to invoke God to explain why Seat Belts Save Lives or, The Speed of Light–It’s not just a Good Idea; It’s the Law.

And, if you cannot argue a moral or ethical rule on those terms, without invoking “God said so” then can you not consider the possibility that maybe your understanding of God’s Will is imperfect?  Also (for the Christians among you) note that even the Bible recognizes that while God may be the same “yesterday, today, and forever” the law he requires of mankind can change, at least in detail. “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

The great thing about this is that it doesn’t require a specific conception of God.  It doesn’t even require a belief in God or gods.  All it requires, in fact, is that if there is a God or gods that he/she/it/they is/are favorably disposed to the happiness and welfare of people.  And even if any ultimate God or gods is/are not so disposed we’re doomed anyway so we might as well try for the greatest happiness and welfare we can now by developing and following moral and ethical codes that lead there.

I’m not wise enough to determine the various rules of physics. However, in that case we have a great many people (smarter than you and me put together) exploring a great many different ideas, testing them against each other and, most especially, testing them against the “real world.” And they have been doing so for a great deal of time.

It is the testing of the ideas, and seeing what ones actually work. Likewise, one can discover the “rules” of moral and ethical behavior by observation and testing the same way we discover the rules of science.

Consider Al Capone who famously said “you can get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone.” What did that get him? Well, it got him in prison by 33 and dead by 48. Some drug dealers may die old and wealthy but how many end up face down in an alley somewhere instead? The “expectation value” is not so good.

Moral behavior works. A billion or so Chinese may have a system that leads to female infanticide but I think they are “making the best of a bad situation” where the various behaviors or beliefs (including female infanticide) are the result of larger issues. Can one honestly say that the Chinese system, of which infanticide of daughters is a symptom, produces the happiness and welfare of the people under it? It certainly doesn’t look that way to me.

Using the Christian example again, the Bible says “by their fruits shall ye know them”, that a good tree produces good fruit and an evil tree produces evil fruit.

I simply go a step farther and postulate that that principle “by their fruits shall ye know them” with the “fruits” being the happiness and welfare of the people is both the necessary and sufficient condition to establishing a moral code.

So many people have so many different understandings of various “sacred writings” (quotes because not everybody agrees on what is or isn’t a sacred writing) that one needs a touchstone to test which such understanding, if any, is “correct.” I submit that the “fruits” touchstone is the appropriate one, and it applies equally well to anyone who doesn’t believe in any particular set of sacred writings.

And this is how a non-believer can have a moral compass just as accurate (IMO) as that of any believer.


Feeding the Active Writer

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.  I get busy (that whole “active writer” thing) and don’t try/develop new recipes so things fall by the wayside.  But I do have a new one now.

Slow cooker Chicken Paprikash.


about 4 lbs of boneless skinless chicken (I used the bagged thighs.  It’s not great chicken as chicken goes, but entirely adequate as a base)
1 cup chopped onions
1 tbsp xantham gum.
2 tbsp paprika
1 14 oz can chicken stock
8 oz sour cream.

If frozen, thaw and drain the chicken.

Place the chicken and onions in 1 4-5 quart slow cooker, dust it with the xantham gum and paprika.  It’s good to add a little chicken and onions, dust it, add a little more, dust that, until the chicken, onion, xantham gum, and paprika are all in the pot.

In a mixing bowl wisk together the chicken stock and sour cream until well blended.  Pour it into the pot.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Stir lightly.

Serve with your choice of non-starchy vegetables and flax meal muffins.


Moving forward.

Elsewhere, the discussion came up again about the political landscape.  Some people, frustrated by Republican lack of anything resembling a spine and repeatedly rolling over for the current administration are talking about “alternatives” including going third party, “letting it burn” (and thus having society and rule of law collapse), or worst of all “revolution.”

First, let’s be clear on one thing:  If we lose liberty here, it’s over.  Unlike past generations, people elsewhere in the world living under tyranny, we have no place to go.  If the US stops being a Constitutional Republic of limited powers where ultimate sovereignty comes from the people and individual liberty is the primary watchword, then there’s no place else to go.

This is not a new idea:

Some people look at the American Revolution and say “we need to do that again.” What they miss is that the situation here in the US at the time of the Revolution were unique in history, they haven’t been recreated since, and don’t hold now. By the time of the US break with Britain, we had a nation of immigrants “self selected” to a large extent for desiring freedom. Oh, it may have been the freedom to create their own highly insular and regulated communities but the key words there are “their own”. Even the “loyalists” were more “we can work something out to keep our freedoms” than “we should just kowtow to being ruled” (at least that’s my impression from my readings over the years).

The American revolution is, therefore, unique. Looking at other revolutions in other times and places does not lead to happy making feelings “Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite” and The Terror. That’s a more common model, especially “The Terror.”

If it does come to actual revolution, I expect that to be the most likely outcome, not “a new birth of freedom, kumbaya”. The odds are so very long against getting anything like a free society out of an armed insurrection that, well, things have to be pretty far gone indeed for that forlorn hope to look like the better option.

As for the actual conduct of such a revolution itself, that will get ugly. Incredibly ugly. I’ve discussed that a bit elsewhere:

Second American Revolution–I Hope Not

In 2008 a movie was made about Jewish resistance fighters in Nazi occupied Bellarus. One of the things I noted was the partisans execution of an informer. That’s exactly how things will have to be. Doesn’t matter how intimidated you are, doesn’t matter if they beat it out of you or threatened your family, or what. You inform; you die. And if (more like when) that doesn’t succeed in stopping informers (or keeping the level low enough that the insurrection can proceed) the next step is to escalate: you inform; your entire family dies.

Immoral? Downright evil? Yep. But that’s where it will be. That’s what it will be. That’s what an armed “Second* American Revolution” will come to.

Better be damned sure it’s justified before pulling that trigger.

Some other thoughts to ponder about a Revolution.  Back in the days of the American Revolution, what most Americans wanted was to be left alone. They liked the idea of liberty. They might disagree on whether negotiating with the King or declaring independence is the best way to get that but they pretty much agreed (oh, there were exceptions–there always are–but by and large). The problem was outside, the King and Parliament.

We have almost the exact opposite situation here. Now, in America, entirely too many people are infected with “there ought to be a law” or a lust for “goodies that other people pay for.”
So, you have your revolution. You win it. It isn’t hijacked by people wanting to use it for their own ends rather than the cause of “Freedom”. (Three miracles in a row of which the last is the greatest, but let’s go with that.) Now what? The people are the same people. You have your new Constitutional Convention? The people who send Pelosi and Boxer, Schumer and Jackson Lee, to Washington are also going to be sending delegates to this convention. How do you prevent them from doing something just as bad?

If you set up a Representative government, you’ve got the same problem because you’ve got the same voters with the same attitudes. What are you going to do? Kill or forcibly deport everyone who disagrees with you? There is a word for that. (Actually several words, but I’ll just go with “evil”.)
Or maybe you’ll go the other way. A benevolent dictatorship can be as free as a Constitutional Republic: provided you get a dictator whose goal is to leave people alone. There’s very little necessary connection between the form government takes and the freedom of the people under it. So, that can work for a generation, maybe two. Of course how benevolent is a dictator who puts himself in power by force of arms likely to be. (A fourth miracle, greater than the other three combined?)
So you get your revolution and you win it. Now what?

Now as for this “third party” vs. “working within the existing parties” argument. I note that the Libertarian Party to use one example for which I have numbers) was founded in 1971. It has run candidates in every Presidential election since 1972. So far, it has only once been able to capture even 1% of the vote. If you plot its results out as a trend it‘s several thousand years before they reach a level high enough to actually win the Presidency.

That should put paid to the “third party” idea.

“But, but, that compromise approach is what got us into this mess.” Yes, because the other side has been willing to go for a little bit here, a little bit there, “compromise” so long as they can get some net gain. taking any setbacks and redoubling efforts for the next round.

The exact same “long game, make small gains where you can, minimize losses where you must” approach that I advocate, has been extremely successful. It’s just the other side that’s been doing it. But it takes discipline, patience, and perseverance. Strange that these are the traits that supposed “conservatives” seem to be lacking in politics
I wasn’t particularly surprised by the House and Senate continuing to roll over after the last election. That’s not a sign that “voting for new people does no good”. If you look at the way the new folk vote vs. how the old folk vote you do see a change. But there aren’t enough Cruzes and Gowdy’s and such yet. It’ll take a few more iterations before the balance shifts enough to really be felt–that is if people have the discipline to keep the pressure on.

If I ever start voting third party, it will mean one of two things: either the third party has somehow managed to get into the double digits in the vote (hey, I can dream) or I’ve simply given up. It won’t be because I think voting for someone who can’t even get one percent of the vote is going to make things better in any way.

It will also be about the time I start drinking.

Leonard Nimoy, RIP.


I’ve never met Mr. Nimoy. I only know him from the roles he has played on the screen, chiefly Spock, of course, but here and there elsewhere.

And yet I feel like I’ve lost a friend. Star Trek was such a big part of my life growing up.  Lots of people grew up wanting to be Kirk.  Frankly, I wanted to be Spock.

So, goodbye, Mr. Spock.  It may not be the Vulcan thing to do, but I’m going to go cry in a corner now.

"It Can’t Happen Here."

The Second Amendment is Obsolete, some say.  The idea that the United States could ever turn tyrannical is pure paranoia, some say.

Well, let’s look at that. Rounding up people and sending them to concentration camps (whether called “reservations” or “relocation centers”). Check. (Treatment of Native Americans.  Japanese-American “Relocation Centers” during World War II).

Illegal medical experiments involving infecting people with diseases, not treating them, and observing the effects done on people without their knowledge or consent. Check. (Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment–and particularly interesting how that was “explained” to the victims as they were getting free health care from the US Government.)

Arbitrary searches of American citizens’ households aimed at the seizure of property without either probable cause or any kind of warrant. Check. (post-Katrina gun Confiscation)

Laws passed allowing the indefinite detention of American Citizens without due process of law. Check. (NDAA 2012)

American citizens going about their daily business being stopped and searched again without probable cause or any kind of warrant (or even the “reasonably articulable suspicion” for a “Terry Stop”). Check. (TSA, not just at Airports, but at bus terminals, rail and subway terminals, highways, even High School Proms.)

“Can’t happen here?” It has and is happening here.

Tell me again how the Second Amendment is obsolete since it’s not needed to defend against tyranny.

But “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

Yet, still, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Addendum Chicago police are instructed to shoot people for obeying the law. Background:  Illinois, the last state in the Union with no provision for legal handgun carry for self defense, had its “no carry” law struck down and was given a timeframe in which to come up with some kind of carry law before the existing law went away entirely.  So, Illinois now has provision for concealed carry.  But the Chicago police Chief vowed to train his officers to shoot people obeying that law.

Addendum 2 EPA exposes people, without informed consent, to high levels of toxic chemicals to track the effects.

Writers Write.

I started (not counted school assignments) when I was in fifth grade, mostly cheap Star Trek ripoffs, heavy on “Marty Stu”, oh, one retelling of Tom Sawyer that was practically an abridgement.  I didn’t finish any of them.  Really, I was trying to write novels and just didn’t have grounding for that.

My mother suggested that I try shorts but for some reason I never went anywhere with those back then.  Then, in the summer of 1977 (between my Freshman and Sophmore years of high school) I finished my first piece that was relatively substantial.  A screenplay.  A science fiction screenplay.  Okay, it was a ripoff of Star Wars.  It was a bad ripoff of star wars.  Written entirely by hand (I didn’t have a good typewriter at the time) there was only one copy in existence which was soon lost.  I wish I knew where it was.  Because, you know, if I knew where it was I could destroy it.  So long as I don’t know, the specter of somebody finding it and threatening to release it to the world unless I perform some unspeakable act for the finder hangs over me.

It was bad.

I was back to partially done stories for a while but at this point I started looking seriously at shorts.  I read collections (had not discovered the magazines yet) from the library–the “Orbit” anthology series, the “Nebula Winners” and others.

Then, in my senior year, I started writing a new piece.  It grew and grew.  Five hundred pages (still handwritten, but I had a rather small hand back then so it was novel length) I had a completed manuscript.  It was still bad, but it had some ideas in it that I may revisit someday.

From then I went into the Air Force.  I started writing more while in, not so much while I was in training or assigned overseas, but when I returned to the US for my last two years I got serious about it.  I started writing shorts.  I started submitting them (I’d discovered magazines by this point).  I started having them rejected.

It took another five years before I had my first sale.  I sold a handful to Analog, one to the late Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, and a few non-fiction pieces.  While not much, this was enough, in fact, to get me exempted from the English language requirement at the college I attended (only person ever to do so).  But that’s the thing, when I started college I really didn’t have the time or energy (especially the energy) to write fiction much.  Then after college it was job and work.  For a while I worked on a webcomic (and I really suck as an artist).  But it was only in the last few years that I got serious about writing again.  I can’t say I write every day, but I write most days.  I have had a few professional sales (some we don’t talk about any more 😉 ) and a few pieces I’ve taken “Indie” which at least some people have enjoyed.

But that’s what writers do.  Writers write.  Selling is a secondary consideration, a nice one, but not the core.  To be a writer you must write.

One of my great fears even well after I started was that I would “run out” of ideas. I lacked the confidence that I would be able to come up with new stuff consistently. So once a story had been rejected by all the pro and semi-pro markets (this was before indie was a realistic option) I would redo, rewrite, polish and try again. And again. And again. I kept hanging onto these old stories rather than going on to something new for fear that I’d “run out” that much sooner.

Eventually, I learned that some of the worlds I’d created just dripped story ideas. There were just so many things I could do moving forward or backward in time or to different locations in the same world. And then I found, thanks to that writing book Sarah recommended, that I could sit down cold, pick some starting point (say, “I want to set this story on the Moon, in my FTI world during the colonization phase, and maybe have a teenage protagonist”) and just noodle around until I’d generated a “story idea.”

Finally, I’d reached the point where I no longer had to worry that I’d run out of story ideas, that the time would come that I’d have to say “I’m done” because I had nothing left to write.

Only took me 37 years. 😉

So, when cons have that panel on “Mistakes beginning writers make” I almost always volunteer for it because I am one.  I’ve just been one for the last 37 (or more) years.

"License Guns Like Cars"

Just about every time the issue of gun control comes up someone will make the “we license cars, don’t we” and suggest that we need to license guns like we license cars.

Well, I’ll take that compromise right now.  Right. this. instant.

If we license guns like cars, then, first, licenses are only required for cars and the operators thereof, that will be operated on the public streets.  No license required for use on private property. (Note:  Don’t bother challenging me on this; I used to drive autocross and have not only seen, but driven, more than a few cars that are not licensed, titled, or otherwise registered because they were never intended for use on public streets.  In fact, most of them weren’t legal for public streets.)

Licenses will be available to individuals as young as 16, learners permits (for operating with supervision on the public streets) as young as 15 (depending on the State).

Licenses valid in all 50 States and every municipality within those States.

Licenses valid, by treaty, in most foreign nations (An “international drivers’ license” is simply a translation of your State drivers’ license into various foreign languages so the local law enforcement can know what your State licensed you to drive–has no legal weight in and of itself).

No federal license required for running a business buying and selling.

No background checks for purchase.  Indeed, if you don’t intend to operate it on public streets no paperwork at all beyond a bill of sale (and that’s just to protect you in case the previous owner wants to claim you stole it).

No license required to transport on public streets, concealed or not, (Those cars at the autocross?  They didn’t get there by apportation–they were all transported on public streets, many in ways that would count as “concealed” for firearms in at least some States).  Oh, and at least one state considered (transported in a vehicle) exactly the same, legally, as carried on ones person for firearms so it’s entirely valid to consider a trailered vehicle comparable to a firearm on ones person for purposes of comparison.  After all, if the State considers the comparison valid for one, then it’s valid for the other, if we’re really “licensing guns like cars”.

Dire emergence a valid proactive defense for an unlicensed operator.  If you have a real, life-threatening emergency that calls for the use of your item, then that justifies even an unlicensed user using an unlicensed item on the public streets.

No limits on size, power, or operating mechanism for items that are not to be used on the public streets.

Oh, and because it bears repeating:  no license required for item or operator if not being used on public streets, and even then “dire emergency” justifies non-licensed use on those public streets.

If we “licensed guns like cars” the only time you would ever need a license is if you were going to operate (drive , shoot ) the object (car, gun) on public property.  And dire, life-threatening emergency would be an affirmative defense of operation even without a license.

So, the only time a license would be needed would be for non-emergency use of the firearm.  I.e. hunting and sport shooting.  None would be required for self defense since that, by definition, is “dire emergency”.

“License guns like cars” would be an unqualified improvement on the current situation from the perspective of gun owners because in every aspect where cars are restricted, guns are restricted every bit as much.

In short, to make it clear, if we “licensed guns like cars” the only time one would ever need a license is for shooting of guns on the public streets and an actual emergency (like, say, a self-defense situation) would still permit unlicensed use.  In short, there would be no need ever to license the ownership or carrying of guns.