Monogamy and Ghosts on M-Net’s ‘Carte Blanche’

by .reid.

I don’t really watch TV. When I do allow myself free-time it’s for reading some fiction (currently Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Sandman’ series). Anyway, I record certain programs then I watch them weeks later. I say this because I’ve only just watched Carte Blanche episode, from 12 June 2011. That’s a month ago.

Anyway, this was a largely disappointing episode but I’m still glad it was made. It dealt extensively with the large-scale alleged corruption within Jo’burg’s EMS. This was excellent, albeit a bit theatrical. Yet, within the episode, there were two stories that were intriguing to me.

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Opening Quotation for My Thesis

I am, I think, late in handing in my thesis proposal. Anyway, I am in the middle of preparing it. The most wonderful thing was finding my opening quotation, from the great James Rachels.

The great man himself. Click to visit his website where you can get three of his wonderful books for free, including the one referenced here.


It is appropriate on a personal level, since the late Professor Rachels ‘got me’ into applied ethics. The quotation encapsulates much of, if not most of, my research for my thesis. I will be unpacking it for several hundred pages, but also developing an answer I think deserves more attention: rational pessimism. What that means I will have to fully flesh out; needless to say, I am drawing from Schopenhauer, Harris, Mill and Kant to formulate some kind of synthesis that can be applied in practical ethical dilemmas, especially when it comes to medical ethics. We’ll see how that goes.

Here is the wonderful quotation. (References at the end)

Although it may seem a surprising thing to say, the Western tradition places too much value on human life. There are times when the protection of human life has no point, and the Western tradition has had difficulty acknowledging this. The noble ideal of ‘protecting human life’ is invoked even when the life involved does its subject no good and even when it is not wanted. Babies that are hopelessly deformed, and will never mature into children, may nevertheless be kept alive at great cost. Euthanasia for persons dying horrible diseases is illegal. St Augustine called respect for animal life ‘the height of superstition’; in these cases, it is respect for human life that seems to have degenerated into superstition.

– James Rachels, The End of Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 24.

Bad Comments Round #2: Jacqueline Howett, Responding to Criticisms, and the (Usual) Dangers of Positive Thinking

For Bad Comments Round #1, click here.

I’m not a published author. My aim is to write books one day, but for now, my focus is mainly to read them. (This reminds me of Schopenhauer’s statement that “buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them”.) However, I have learnt to a small degree how to deal with critics.

Maybe it has to do with the subject matter I deal with – sensitive ethical topics that happen to be my research focus like infanticide, suicide, and so on – but I’ve learnt to focus only on necessary commentary. That is commentary that actually adds to the discussion, by pointing out flaws in my argument and view. Continue reading

South African Science & Skeptic Podcast: Consilience Episode 1, feat. Steven Novella

Angela Meadon, Michael Meadon and Owen Swart, some of our most prolific and passionate skeptics (yes to get more hits, it is spelled with a “k”), have just released their first episode of their new podcast, Consilience. Have a look at their first episode. They got the wonderful Steven Novella for an interview — which shows either their persistence, Novella’s friendliness, or a ridiculous amount of time. I imagine, though, it is all three.

The topic for this episode sounds wonderful. After listening, let them know what you think. Before the trolls are released, at least give them time to start doing the podcast though. Stay under your bridges until then.

Congratulations to the wonderful team. That’s a helluva way to start. This is good news for the spreading of scientific ideas in South Africa and, of course, Africa in general. I’m very glad to see this. Please spread the word.

Centre for Inquiry’s New Campaign: No ‘Hope’ Please

The Center for Inquiry, one of (if not the) leading non-religious advocacy group in the United States, has begun a new campaign, ‘Living Without Religion’. Have a look at this clip, aimed at simply stating their mission in this campaign and the overarching idea of living without a god, in general.

It’s simple, coherent and is not threatening. My only quibble is with the word ‘hope’. What do they mean by ‘hope’?

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Koos Kombuis Cooks Up a Bit of Nonsense

Koos Kombuis, wonderful writer that he is, has written something even I cannot understand. As someone who loves Pynchon and Faulkner, I would like to think the inability to detect irony, sarcasm and black humour has largely evaporated from my misty literary vision. Writing in the, um, ‘prolific’ Thought Leader, Kombuis begins making noises very much in the spirit of many postmodern writers, like Lyotard and – more closely – Bauman and New Age ‘thinkers’.

Kombuis’ focus is on the various stages of Man’s thought and his ‘spiritual evolution’, as he ascends to the pinnacle of consciousness, to finally gain enlightenment, crossing thus into the zenith of the twilight within… Or something like that. In fact, though it has hints of Bauman, Lyotard and perhaps Zizek, it begins sounding more like the New Thought and New Age nonsense peddled by for example Opraholics. Indeed, it sounds like the very thing he – correctly – thinks is nonsense. Continue reading

David Hume on Obfuscatory Philosophy

I came across a wonderful quotation by the great David Hume. In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1777) Hume unpacks his targets and what he hopes to avoid. In the very first section, “On the Different Species of Philosophy”, he considers the cases of some “metaphysical” philosophy which is obscure because it is not “science”. This is not to say that because it is not science it is worthless, but that a good red flag is something that revels in not being science, bathing itself in obscurity and obfuscation. (Which today identifies such things as obscure New Age nonsense, astrology, and homeopathy.)

To Hume, because “man is a reasonable being”, “science [is] his proper food and nourishment”. This is the famous paragraph, where he dissects the contradictory nature of “man” and ends off with (personified) nature telling us: “Be a philosopher; but, amidst all your philosophy, be still a man.”

Of course, here there was little differentiating between the kind of philosophy and science we ought to do. Both should be focused on remaining “human”. “Indulge your passion for science, says she [nature], but let your science be human, and as such have a direct reference to action and society.” (Emphasis added.)

I take such words to heart, considering the applicability of my thoughts, research and philosophical focus. I do not want to indulge in irrelevant navel-gazing on publicly meaningless topics. A danger, I think, in many disciplines.

And this is the paragraph I want to quote; where Hume admonishes all who would indulge in obscurity, superstition and meaningless drivel (I’m looking at you literary theory). Every academic should have this paragraph on their door; or above their keyboard or quill or whatever academics write with these days. Says Hume:

But this obscurity in the profound and abstract philosophy, is objected to, not only as painful and fatiguing, but as the inevitable source of uncertainty and error. Here indeed lies the justest and most plausible objection against a considerable part of metaphysics, that they are not properly a science; but arise either from the fruitless efforts of human vanity, which would penetrate into subjects utterly inaccessible to the understanding, or from the craft of popular superstitions, which, being unable to defend themselves on fair ground, raise these intangling brambles to cover and protect their weakness. Chaced from the open country, these robbers fly into the forest, and lie in wait to break in upon every unguarded avenue of the mind, and overwhelm it with religious fears and prejudices. The stoutest antagonist, if he remit his watch a moment, is oppressed. And many, through cowardice and folly, open the gates to the enemies, and willingly receive them with reverence and submission, as their legal sovereigns. (Enquiry, I: Par. 11)

Hume teaches everyone, not just philosophers. Indeed, anyone can benefit from this man’s powerful and beautiful writing, thought and grace. His sobriety and clarity is second to none.