Arguments about morality

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This was a session at Sol 2013.



  • Ben (during the service): I'm annoyed by the idea that we should celebrate death and extinction as well as life; it always bothers me when religious people describe death as something to look forward to
    • Brandon: That's the same as hoping to escape from the present into a utopian future
    • Ben (later): It's not fair to compare secular believers in a future "heaven on earth" with hypocritical religious people who claim to care about others when all they really care about is getting themselves into Heaven
    • Brandon: They're different in some respects, but in both cases you're viewing life in the present as "not good enough" ... it's better to have an attitude of "things are okay but could be improved"
    • Ben: That attitude makes you sound like a wistful dreamer rather than someone who's going to take action
  • Ben: Maybe on average the world is "okay," but some aspects like slavery and genocide are definitely not "okay"
    • Brandon: Slavery is a good example; I personally consider it "not okay" and would try to change it, but in general it's morally ambiguous, like lions eating gazelles
    • Ben: Lions don't have ethics, so they can't be held accountable for the suffering and death they cause
    • Brandon: I don't think holding people accountable for their crimes is the best model, since that's a form of "otherizing" and "wrong-making;" better to empathize with them and say "we're all wrong and we should all improve ourselves"
    • Ben: Or there's a third option of saying "there's nothing wrong and nothing needs to change"
    • Brandon: That's the same as what I was proposing
    • Ben (losing patience): No it's not, what the hell are you talking about?
  • Eric's essay on suffering
    • Brandon: Suffering can be defined as pain, or as mental discomfort resulting from pain, or as mental discomfort due to long-term attachment to something you're not getting
      • The last definition is what you need to avoid (in order to be okay with the world as it exists)
      • We should seek to emulate people who endure great pain and hardship with grace, dignity, and very little suffering, and avoid being like those who suffer greatly over very small problems
    • Brandon: Switching between multiple perspectives can be useful (like gears on a car)
      • E.g. the perspective of being happy with what is, vs. the perspective that something is wrong and needs to change
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