Hail To The Nihilist

Category: Philosophy

Blogging and Censorship

I do not condone violence. I do not condone abusive language, either*. When it comes to free speech I tend to sit on the words can carry severe consequences side of the fence. However, I do not just condone but advocate for rigorous debate.

I love to be challenged. I love to challenge too. When I read something I disagree with, a news article, blog post or perhaps tweet, I don’t have any qualms challenging it. And I mean it: the thing being said. It an important part of debating to separate the argument from the arguer.  To attack the arguer, especially on irrelevant grounds, is not only uncool but fallacious and is likely to discredit you. So, my debating tip of the day: tear apart the argument as much as you like, just don’t resort to personal attacks.

And that brings me to a blog I read and a common phenomenon that is sweeping parts of the ‘sphere at the moment. The blog is A Conscious Life. I started following it because the authors had some interesting insights to share on veganism, veggie gardening and green living. All stuff I am interested in. There have been a few points where I have disagreed with something or a factual error has been made. I have challenged. I have had my comments deleted and was on one occasion blocked.

Recently one of the authors, SJ, wrote about ditching labels and going against her veganism. I actually agree with a few of the points she makes. I have eaten dairy knowingly when a meal has been screwed up. I did so on the grounds of not wanting to waste it–what would that achieve? However, I am yet to give into bodily urges and throw it all away; justifying the decision on some arbitrary basis. Having said that, it’s SJ’s choice ultimately.

I visit the blog today to see whether the debate is still alive. I am met with this:

UPDATE 12TH MARCH 2013 – Regretfully we have decided to turn off comments on this post due to the large number of abusive and threatening messages received from Vegan extremists in response to SJ eating one piece of wild atlantic salmon. Please remember if you wish to participate in future discussions that you…

What? Again? This is similar to what happened at Alex Jamieson’s blog. She didn’t lock out comments but she wrote a response to a handful of commenters along these lines. Using the big “E” word.

Sure, some people are sensitive and cannot bear it. However, I notice something with this phenomenon. These people tend only to be sensitive when it suits them–when they haven’t anything to say back; when they are not confident in their position. I don’t agree that we should jump on these people and make them submit. No way. And I can understand how they feel, when having vitriol thrown at them. However, I contend the majority of comments that are being treated this way are far from inappropriate. What I have read over at Alex’s blog, in particular, is mostly respectful. Respectful though strongly reasoned. It can be difficult to have your views challenged. But think back to how you formed these views. Or how a particular view might have become the norm from a minority view somewhere in history. Think back. Realise how important robust debate is. Realise that most people, arguing well–using sound logic, evidence and not resorting to fallacies,–don’t think anything ill of you for holding a particular view; they just have good reason to not accept what you’re saying. Let them challenge you. Perhaps it will reveal flaws in their argument. Perhaps you will learn something.

*Ok, I’ll come straight. I experience road rage when I am on my bike from time to time but that’s different. Having a car door swung in your face is a bit different than being presented with a different viewpoint.

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Getting a Feel

In an old job I had I was responsible for training new administration staff. One particular staffer was an obsessive note taker. Constantly as I showed her things she would ask me to stop so she could note it down.

One day I asked her how often she referenced the book. She admitted hardly ever.

On review of her progress she wasn’t making ground as most other people did and she still asked a lot of questions. The notes were a distraction from getting a “feel” for the tasks and systems. Sometimes it is better to just sit, watch and think for a while and not document those thoughts. Sometimes it is best to watch how something is done a few times and explore the logic rather than just try and remember it.

I’ve just started a new job and the first couple of days have been all about “getting a feel”. I feel I have learnt so much more than I would have any other way following this method. You see, I haven’t tried to remember too many whole things. Rather, how certain things link together.

Aesthetics as a Moral Justification

Should aesthetics dominate ethical consideration? Those that exploit animals would have us believe so. They argue for hedonism all the time. Eating is about the taste. Pet ownership is about love. Rodeos are about entertainment. These are all aesthetic justifications. In their terms, the acts are justified on the basis that they–the consumer–derives some sort of pleasure. Would this form of justification stand up in a court of law, in a case concerning humans?

The man raped the women in order to derive sexual pleasure. The women murdered her friend as she yearned for the rush. These sound like very unjustified acts, don’t they? What of the victims in these instances? What about their interests?

I think in a utilitarian world aesthetics can be used to justify some things, provided all actors are party to the exchange. Preference utilitarianism after all is about weighing up interests. We hear stories–they strangely all seem to come from Eastern Europe–of people giving their bodies to cannibalism. Perhaps this can be justified.

However, this is about lopsided bargains. Where one party doesn’t necessarily consent to being the subject of somebody else’s hedonism. Where that party’s interests are not properly considered.

Usually in debates my argument fails at the point where I draw a human comparison. This isn’t a failure point at all. The failure point is how aesthetic justifications are permissible in situations concerning non-humans only.

“We don’t currently live in a “free” society in the true sense of the term. Every day, our minds are assaulted by commercial messages that reach us from all sides. The whole billion-pound-a-year advertising industry runs counter to any assertion that we’re currently free and un-nudged as it stands.” ~ Alain de Bottom