Considering Christopher Hitchens was the master of the English language, it seems particularly stupid of me to use it now. It’s like trying to serenade the world’s greatest singer. But here goes my poor attempt which is aided greatly by a quotation by a Nobel prize winning author.
News24.com is one of those websites that makes you ashamed to share a species label with other humans. The comments sections often reads as though a bunch of blind, three-fingered lunatics have been set alight and told that typing really fast on a keyboard will put the flames out. Oh and someone is hitting them on the head with a hammer. Regardless, sometimes a brave soul emerges from the cloud of nonsense to write something comprehensible. Recently the user ‘Increasingly Annoyed’, wrote an article ‘Ask an atheist’. I have a number of small problems with it, though I think it is fairly well-written (though it uses some unnecessary phrasing) and refreshingly sober.
The insightful legal writer, David Allen Green, has just penned an article asking whether we should ban “banning” things. His argument will be familiar to you if you’ve read some of the items here. Green provides a much clearer exposition on the ramifications of banning than I have, though.
Green points out that banning something does not eliminate it. This can be drugs, pornography, and so on. As he puts it, “to say there should be a law against a thing is often no more than saying there should be a spell against.” He clarifies further and says that should something be successfully banned, “it just means the legal system will be engaged in a way it otherwise would not be.” This truism highlights that just because the law is acting differently does not, by definition, mean we have ridden ourselves of banned items.
Recently I’ve been trying to locate items that I would consider horrid enough to ban the same way a conservative would upon seeing something that offends him. However, when I attempt arguments for why I would want a possible item banned, my “banning” arguments inevitably collapse into illegal or immoral ones (not necessarily the same): that is, what I want banned is essentially that which is bad enough to require intervention by the law. For example, I would ban adverts that paid actors to torture animals to death. But animal cruelty is already a crime. Indeed, ‘banning’ such an advert is an insulting way to treat such an act, since banning only means pushing it away from the public eye, not getting rid of the actual problem. *
The collapse of my “banning” arguments into criminal charges happens every time I try find an item that would force me to react as conservative Christians do to, say, angels abandoning their Heavenly status because of an average man, who happens to smell nice (one wonders what happens when the odour disappears). I have been so far unsuccessful in my search for such an item. I have vaguely considered the existence of shows like Jersey Shore to perhaps being the closest thing.
What we must notice is that items people want banned usually straddle the line between disgusting and criminal – that is, they are horrid enough for people to evoke outrage but not so horrid that they are crimes. After all, if they were crimes, banning would, as I said, be an obvious ineffective way to treat the ‘problem’. No one thinks just banning child pornography is enough: there are active police units that hunt down people involved in the manufacture of child pornography. So, items that are banned or that people want banned straddle this continuum of disgust and crime.
This is a guest post by Elaine Hirsch. In this short post, she looks at what has been certainly occupying my interest lately, namely capital punishment. – TM
Utilitarianism and Capital Punishment
by Elaine Hirsch
Utilitarianism is a form of ethics which seeks to maximize the benefits from human actions. As a theory, utilitarianism promotes the idea that the moral worth of a certain act is determined by the outcome. John Stuart Mill, a philosopher and economist, is perhaps the most prominent adherent to utilitarianism. In his (aptly titled) book, Utilitarianism, Mill stated that human action should adhere to the “greatest-happiness principle,” which strives to produce the greatest utility among all parties involved. Often covered in PhD programs, this theory has many applications to how public policies are devised.
In terms of public policy, utilitarianism isn’t (and doesn’t claim to be) a panacea for the world’s problems. Maximizing the benefits of policies doesn’t guarantee fairness nor does it take into account moral issues which populations value above other results. Regardless, utilitarianism provides a framework for public policy, and this article will look at how the theory relates to the death penalty.
My argument is that we allow religions to have bizarre laws within secular states. If we relegate marriage as a whole to religions, we ought to tolerate whatever views the religious groups have on marriage. With regards to the State, we ought to just have a civil union, which is sex-blind. If religions then want to maintain their opposition to gay marriages, that is their business, not those of us focused on secular policies. It would be disgusting if they did continue to oppose gay marriages, but we tolerate disgusting views – as long as they don’t infringe on the wider laws – anyway.
The main reason to oppose homosexual discrimination usually has to due with inconsistent application of the laws or rules applied. That is, if sexual orientation truly does not effect whether someone is a better citizen, worker, friend, and so on, then he ought not to be discriminated against if he happens to be gay. This would constitute unfair discrimination, by definition, since you would be treating those who happened to be straight without worrying whether their sexual orientation would lead to a worse friendship or poorer work performance (or you take it for granted that straight people perform better or are more trustworthy, etc.) Unfair discrimination or prejudice is what we (ought to) oppose – but not discrimination by definition, since that would actually be absurd. Continue reading
An advert about odours that “could offend” Christians has been pulled because of a single complaint from an angelically-concerned, single (male) individual. I’m offended his offence was taken seriously. Does my offence count?
Recently, it’s been very interesting watching advertising bodies get involved in metaphysical debates about the existence of god. For example, when the wonderful (but British) Ariane Sherine successfully managed to get an atheist message on busses – with powerful support from Richard Dawkins – they were told to change “There is no god” to “There is probably no god”. There were very bad arguments for this, but it’s fairly obvious why – ironically it is to cater to those who do believe, despite it being directed at those who obviously do not. Now, in South Africa, we’ve had something similar. Continue reading