About Rationally Speaking


Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The psychology of bias: why Republicans win more arguments than they should

I've always wondered what's the matter with people, often in conjunction with the obvious observation that a lot of folks seem to be irrationally taken by bold talk of aggression and force to solve a problem, when it ought to be (rationally) obvious that such course of action will only spell disaster. Just think of last year's Israeli military actions against Hezbollah in Lebanon or, painfully obviously, of Iraq.

Apparently, psychologists have been busy providing intriguing (if depressing) answers to these sorts of questions, and a recent article by Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon in Foreign Policy briefly summarizes the findings. The basic idea is that humans are affected by a large number of “biases,” i.e. instinctual reactions affecting our judgment in a non-rational, and often downright irrational, way. Many of these biases, according to Kahneman and Renshon, explain why political “hawks” win arguments in the public arena much more often than they ought to when compared to their stereotypical rivals, the “doves.” (The authors are of course quick to point out that their argument doesn't prove that a hawkish strategy is always, or even often, wrong, just that the hawkish argument often carries the day for the wrong reason.)

One such bias that has been well studied in psychology is the tendency that we all have to overestimate our own strengths: most of us think we are smarter and more attractive than the average, which I guess goes a long way toward explaining some devastating failures in the dating department. But it also explains why our politicians tend to see wars they are about to embark on as “cakewalks.” The stunning example discussed by Kahneman and Renshon is the fact that every single soon-to-be combatant nation in World War I predicted a swift and easy victory. It turned out to be a long drawn-out carnage instead.

Another interesting bias documented by researchers is called “reactive devaluation,” and it occurs every time we consider an offer from a rival party during a negotiation: we systematically devalue the offer because, after all, it comes from the enemy, so it can't be good for us. A study in this respect showed that when a given peace plan was considered by a group of pro-Israeli Americans, and presented as if it were a Palestinian proposal, they commented that it was biased in favor of the Palestinians. Interestingly, when the same exact proposal was presented as forthcoming from the Israelis, it was considered “evenhanded”!

Finally, a bias particularly relevant at the moment is our aversion to cutting losses. Again, this has been well documented, with people insisting in the attempt to recover from even a great loss, despite the fact that they are likely to incur an ever greater one by persisting in their behavior. Even when the odds are clearly statistically in favor of a “strategic retreat,” we keep “staying the course.” Sounds familiar?

61 comments:

  1. Boastful politicians promising easy victories over the state's enemies, all because we, the people, are supposedly "blessed by God(s)", is actually the main theme of Ancient Roman History.

    Caesar Augustus "misunderestimated" the strength and will of the German tribes which led to heavy losses and a drain on Roman resources.

    Bush was posed in the White House Library during his Iraq speech the other day. And he mentioned in an interview that he was reading a book on France's Algerian "conflict". A little late for homework.

    But good research does overcome some bias. However, self-delusion seems harder to crack than diamonds. And we all know Republicans are full of diamonds. Now bring me a stick, it's Pinata time.

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  2. "Another interesting bias documented by researchers is called “reactive devaluation,” "

    Firstly, that bias obviously works both ways. And remember that sometimes people do actually win because they are basically right. Sometimes one person's ideas are just more sustainable because their approach covers the logical feasibility factors better than the others.

    For instance: Is the claim by a “non-pro-life politician” that we should not be engaged in a war on the basis of lives lost by our military and others a logical and consistent position when they are explicitly not "pro-life"? I cannot imagine how. I think that particular person certainly will lose "the argument" FAIR AND SQUARE because their views are immature and poorly developed.

    In contrast, how can anyone be in support of the use of military force and be pro-life? For the exact same reason we support our local police dept. Law enforcement personal does not want to kill or be killed, but the nature of the world is such that crushing lawless people in their activities is a necessity.

    cal

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  3. My first book will be titled: "Masturbation: The Mass Murder of Sperm & Egg - Potential Human Beings Lost Down the Drain".

    Why stop at the level of the fertizlied egg? Let's make maturbation a crime. It's a sin isn't it?

    It's so arbitrary for pro-lifers to only care about the sum of the parts and not the parts themselves.

    This is, of course, where right wingers throw religion into the argument(the soul)because they have nothing else to stand on.

    Republicans are expert at moving the goal posts. Like Las Vegas, it's easy for Republicnas to win arguments because they make up all the rules, and ignore logic.

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  4. In response to Anonymous Cal,
    Your comments ignore the perspective that people who are not so-called "pro-life", really meaning anti-abortion, don't consider a fetus a living human being.
    If so-called "pro-lifers" really believed that an abortion killed a human person, that it is murder, then they would be for comprehensive sex education in schools. The stat. data are clear. Countries that have sex education that gives teens the full range of options, from abstinence to contraception, have lower abortion rates. What the so-called pro-lifers really want is to control peoples sexuality.

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  5. m: It's so arbitrary for pro-lifers to only care about the sum of the parts and not the parts themselves."

    In Judaism an unborn child is considered an extension of its mother at least as much as a limb would be. So if men "cared" so deeply for the women who they happened to impregnate,(as if it were an "accident") there would be no question of whether it is appropriate or not for her to have to remove one of her "limbs".

    Back in YOUR lap, Marcus.

    If you "cared" so much about women personally, you would make sure you never "caused" children you had no intention of taking care of!! THAT ONE ACTION ALONE would solve the problem of caring for "the parts" and the "sum" of them.




    sheldon,
    sex edu is all you want? That's rather shallow. And worse, it expects people to behave like they are stupid.

    I would be thoroughly shocked if anyone above fourth grade does not know how children come into the world. Really. literally. I would be shocked. What you are actually asking for is a way for kids to have sex with out paying the price.

    Sex ed generally ignors the fact that there are a great many more "problems" associated with fooling around then having "unwanted" children.

    cal

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  6. Ignorant is the person who's had no education. Stupid is the person who rejects it.

    You're acting both extremely ignorant and stupid, Cal. Do humanity a favor and do not say those things you just wrote in public, please? Get a grip on reality too?

    Because one thing is having delusional but mostly harmless ramblings about evolution, geology and all that, but a very different one is helping destroy people's lives. The Catholic Church would be proud...

    J

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  7. Some dose of reality:

    1) Teenagers have sex regardless what society says. And preaching abstinence has little effect.

    2) Pro-Choice is exactly what it sounds. It is the choice of a woman on how her body will be used, and how her time and energy will be spent.

    3) Religion uses sex as a weapon against freedom of thought, bashing people over the head with guilt in order to exert emotional control over individuals. The real intent of religion isn't to regulate sex acts but to thrive off of them. That's why gay marriage is only mentioned by Republicans in election years.

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  8. J,

    The original reason for public education was (as Martin Luther established it) to teach children to read the Bible. But you, otoh, have been indoctrinated to think completely 180 on what makes a good education, so anything to the contrary will sound ignorant to you.

    J" but a very different one is helping destroy people's lives.."

    This commentary of yours was an emotional rant if I have ever seen one. I DO NOT respect it, and no self-respecting female should!

    People destroy their own lives.
    get back on the subject.

    And that was... how men are not going to "cause" children that they have no intention of raising.

    cal

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  9. Cal, Before you go off the deep end, perhaps you should reread J's post. He did not say you were stupid, he said you were ACTING stupid, which unfortunately is something we all do at one time or another. Consequently he is leaving open a path for intellectual redemption.

    Can you believe it - Dennis the arbitor

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  10. Marcus A.
    "1) Teenagers have sex regardless what society says. And preaching abstinence has little effect."

    Gravity is an accepted and almost well understood law, but we DO stand up and walk anyway. Ever notice that? We don't just lay in one place with the thought that gravity simply cannot be overcome!

    How silly can you get? Laws of nature exist to be mastered.


    "2) Pro-Choice is exactly what it sounds. It is the choice of a woman on how her body will be used, and how her time and energy will be spent."

    No it isn't. It is a free license for men to wash their hands of any responsibility to the mother of their would be child or children.

    And yes, I know of reasonably well educated women who have had up to three or four abortions before 30-35.


    "3) Religion uses sex as a weapon against freedom of thought, bashing people over the head with guilt in order to exert emotional control over individuals."

    I have no idea what religion you are talking about, but this is not my experience at all.

    I do not feel guilty about how men act or what they may say to me in public. I don't worry much about any of that or even think it is my fault. I dress reasonable and decent for someone my age,(I ain't no desperate housewife!) why should I feel guilty? huh?

    You live in some other reality, Marcus.


    "The real intent of religion isn't to regulate sex acts but to thrive off of them. That's why gay marriage is only mentioned by Republicans in election years."

    How people form their families is important. If people increase their belief that "families" can include the notion (gay or not) that a family can be "child optional", we, the so called educated masses, will become extinct. Most of the third world, which does not hold to similar ideas about birth control, will not.

    And that is a reality not a bias. If we are that pathetically stupid when it comes to creating a definition of what forms a family, we deserve to be taken over by other countries who, tho they may not have as quite as many educated persons in the population, they sure have more common sense then we do!
    cal

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  11. Kiitos, Dennis. How kind of you. :)

    Don't be alarmed, I'm not going off the "deep end",

    that is just being emphatic.

    gotta run to a meeting in a few minutes!

    cal

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  12. Hey, Massimo. Are you sure Republicans win more arguments? Because the rants and raves of these conservative-minded folks make no sense.

    I talk about a woman's freedom of choice whether she gives birth or not, and they whine about it giving males "a free license for men to wash their hands of any responsibility".

    So you penalize woman by denying them Free-Choice because it benefits men?

    Well, there's a new type of logic for you.

    Every restaurant benefits the rats waiting ouside. So we better close them all down.

    Christians are obsessed with talking about sex and morality. It's their main proselytizing tool.

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  13. Cal,

    Why is the question necessarily:

    "how men are not going to "cause" children that they have no intention of raising. "

    And not:

    How women are going to prevent having children they are financially or emotionally unable to raise?

    -Krys

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  14. Kry,

    Because at the forefront, men still do rule the world.

    And while mothers, sisters, wives and female friends certainly have a good deal of influence, the reality is that eight out of ten people, of either gender, would still find a man more credible than a woman.

    Don't take the God given credibility that you were born with lightly, that's all.

    cal

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  15. M,
    Why does any of thge information in this post show why Reps win more arguements then they should? Why does the fact that most people think they are smarter then they are apply only to Republicans? Why does "reactive devaluation", apply more to Reps then Dems?
    In fact, why are Reps the Hawks and Dems the Doves? I am not sure why any of the information in your post means that Republicans win more arguements then they should?

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  16. I am not sure why the subject of abortion has become a main topic of the so called culture wars. I would think abortion should be wrong even in a natural world view. What makes it OK to kill a 24 week fetus through abortion but not a baby born after 28 weeks. I have heard some silly arguements from liberals, like a 24 week fetus has no sentience (in fact I believe I got that right on this site) so that makes it ok to kill it, but a 28 weeks baby has sentience so it is not ok. I really like the explaination of womans choice. Why cant she have the choice to kill her new born? I have heard the argument that a 24 week fetus cannot survive without medical help, as if a newborn can survive on its own.
    If you belive abortion is ok at 24 weeks,but killing a baby born after 36 weeks is murder. Then don't you have to have a line somewhere? At what point does killing a baby become murder?
    On late term abortions the doctor had to kill the baby then remove the baby from the mother becuase if the baby was born first it would be murder. There is some good logic for ya.

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  17. Krys

    To be fair, even Darwin sure seemed to think that men ruled the world. The problem with Darwin tho is that he often tended to say things that seemed to be quite true in particular respects and instances, but eventually would turn towards a complete misrepresentation of the facts because he missed the whole reason for
    "being".

    "Woman seems to differ from man in mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness. ... Woman, owing to her maternal instincts, displays those qualities towards her infants in an eminent degree; therefore it is likely that she should often extend them towards her fellow-creatures. Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness. These latter qualities seem to be his natural and unfortunate birthright. It is generally admitted that with woman the powers of intuition, of rapid perception, and perhaps of imitation, are more strongly marked than in man; but some, at least, of those faculties are characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization. The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain - whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands."

    Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, (Princeton University Press: New Jersey 1981: a facsimile of the 1871 edition)

    cal

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  18. Jim,

    In your post debunking the "logic" of abortion law, you make an egregious logical fallacy yourself: the False Continuum fallacy. Simply because it is difficult to tell a 24 week old fetus from a 28 week old fetus from a new born, doesn't imply that reasonable people can't discern the difference between a new formly zygote and a child.

    For an analogy you might like, even though the most insane cults have something in common with small religious sects which have something in common in mainstream religion, it would be wrong to lump wack-o cults with mainstream christianity.

    In practice, abortion law is going to seem arbitrary because it must set precise limits on a seemless continuum, but this does not make it illogical.

    -- Chris

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  19. Come to think of it, Chris, the fallacy is more commonly used and applies more aptly to how and what ages some people think sex ed should be implemented.

    From the wiki one of the examples used to demonstrate the fallacy was this: "A variant is that, as an example, it's okay for a 6-year-old to drink because it's okay for a 21-year old and okay for a 20-and-11-months old and so on."

    Clearly, it is not as appropriate for younger children to drink as it is for those over a particular age. It never does, however, deny or confirm what makes a child a human. In other words, we do not say that a child is not a human because he can't drink, have sex or what have you. That would be ridiculous.

    I don't think your fallacy applies here because the progression of abilities and experiences has not a thing to do with what makes a person a human. I that were true, we would refer to a great number of disabled people, including Stephen Hawking, as not human.

    http://www.hawking.org.uk/home/hindex.html

    cal

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  20. In your post debunking the "logic" of abortion law, you make an egregious logical fallacy yourself: the False Continuum fallacy. Simply because it is difficult to tell a 24 week old fetus from a 28 week old fetus from a new born, doesn't imply that reasonable people can't discern the difference between a new formly zygote and a child.

    Chris,
    When discussing abortion, what difference does it make if one can discern the difference between a zygote and a child. An abortion never kills (or discontinues growth as you may put it)a zygote. By the time one discovers they are pregnant, the zygote stage has long since come and gone. Would you rather rephrase and say that people can discern the difference between a fetus and a child? Abortion kills fetuses not zygotes.
    Your saying that I am making a logical fallicy because life is a continuum from zygote to child then give similarities in religion and cults as an example of the continuum fallicay? Not sure how that works.
    We are not talking about drinking ages or sex ed here. This is life. Shouldn't you have something to go by. How do you know that killing a fetus is not murder?

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  21. Anti-abortionists don't even want the morning-after pill or RU486 to be available to women. The morning-after pill prevents fertilization, while RU486 ends pregnany within the first 2 months.

    Why then isn't masturbation murder if the morning-after pill is?

    I say only republicans should be able to have abortions. Free abortions for republicans and plenty of them.

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  22. Anonymous,
    The morning after pill does not prevent fertilization. It thins the membrane of the uterine wall preventing implantation. It has the same chemical as the regular pill and works in the same way (for the most part). One does not need to purchase the morning after pill for emergency. If they have regular birth control pills, they can just take two regular pills, then resume normal dose. This is something the drug companys do not want you to find out.
    The average person using the pill for contraception does not even know that it may not always prevent fertilization. It works in two ways, one two prevent fertilization (which may or may not work, I have heard different estimates on what % of the time fertilization is prevented), the other is to prevent implantation.
    As far as my own personal feelings on the matter, still working on it, since the info out there is very contradictory

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  23. I was going to comment on why the hawkish approach wins more arguments but then I ran into cal's comment: "How silly can you get? Laws of nature exist to be mastered."
    My immediate thought was, "Well cal, that's an example of just how silly you can get." Come now, "the laws of nature exist to be mastered"? Is this some new form of the anthropic principle? We exist because somebody has to master the laws of nature? I give up. I think I'll go listen to Rush Limbaugh and concede every point because of his hawkish nature. (bah!)

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  24. Jim Fisher - To prevent implantation is to prevent fertilization. And the sperm and egg go to waste.

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  25. Anonymous,
    No, to prevent implantation is not preventing fertilization. It is an actual fertilized egg (it gets fertilized in the tubes most times) that then gets implanted in the uterus.
    My point in telling you this is that this is why many people feel the birth control pill is Ok, since they feel they are just preventing fertilization (thus they feel no life was created), and the day after pill is not ok because they think they are destroying a fertilized egg (hence they are killing life). What these people do not realize is that both techniques work by preventing implantation, thus may be killing a zygote (or just pre-zygote).
    So your origional question is why isn't masturbation murder if the morning after pill isn't? Clearly you can see there is a difference, one involves fertilized eggs one does not. Although I do not believe in abortion. I am still making up my mind on the issues you are talking about. These are complex topics not easily understood with the information available.

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  26. Abortion on a talk of psychology of bias? Its amazing how you folks can get off topic!

    I think maybe we are missing a point of the pro-life pro-choice debate.

    Lets take a look at gambling. Our society doesn't like it, and there are bad side effects to having a high amount of gambling in an area. Yet we have state sanctioned gambling through lottery ticket sales. I understand that this is because illegal gaming was out of control, and the state needed some way to put it out of business. Playing cat and mouse, arresting those that were offenders just wasn't enough. Now, illegal gaming clubs are reduced in number, and the gaming revenue goes to a good source (seniors normally).

    Perhaps abortions can be looked at in similar in light. In a similar way to gambling, we know its harmful to society to allow it, but the alternatives can destroy society as well. We can truly want there to be always educated children that never make dumb mistakes, but I think we all know that can't happen.

    So why not combine education (that gives the facts, abortion does kill, abstinence is the only way to ensure no pregnancy, detailed medical data on the various STI's, safe sex practices, etc.) with a system of abortion laws that allows choice, but in such a way to minimize the number of women that choose to get abortions. The alternative, returning to a legal environment that promotes the hiding of pregnancy and FUD regarding sexual practices, might just cause more harm then good.

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  27. "Abortion on a talk of psychology of bias? Its amazing how you folks can get off topic!"

    When Cal posted on war and abortion, I was going to throw capital punishment into the mix. Probably a good thing I kept my mouth shut.

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  28. da: "Well cal, that's an example of just how silly you can get." Come now, "the laws of nature exist to be mastered"? Is this some new form of the anthropic principle? We exist because somebody has to master the laws of nature?"

    Sure.

    MORE humans certainly do exist than would have in the past because they, thanks to mod medicine, now make it to a mature age.

    More people also existed in the past because they learned about how to manipulate agriculture, and so on...

    guess now we are setting out to offset our successes in medicine and technology, by hacking em down before they even get a chance to take their first breath.

    How bleak can it possibly get?

    cal

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  29. Suf,

    its rather easy to get "off topic" when the range of what arguments could be had between the left and right vary so widely.

    Don't you think?

    and while I was 'getting off topic'... WE DEFINATELY didn't want me to elaborate on how Darwin marginalized the existence of women, (see quotes) by the acceptance of the fact that a woman can have ..

    " characteristic(s)of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization. The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than woman can attain - whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands."

    So possibly now we have come to the point that we (as a society) accept the idea that a child is also a lower order of human, based on the matter of "characteristics", like her mother.

    cal

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  30. Amazing... for a site that is purportedly based on rational thinking, I don't believe (oooo... bet I get bashed for "believing" something) that I have read so much irrational mumbo jumbo from a bunch of folks exhibiting exactly what the writer of the original post accused Reps of being: Overestimating your own "strengths" (All of the: "I am right and you are an idiot" statements) and reactive devaluation of anyone who might possibly have an opposing view!! I guess you are ALL Republicans (using the "logic" of the writer of the original post).
    Except for perhaps Sork who actually had a sane, logical train of thought!!
    And by the way... please don't assume you know whether I am Rep or Dem or Pro-life or Pro-choice. You would most likely be wrong!
    JA

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  31. Sork,
    You are comparing abortion to gambling. You admit the abortion is wrong and hurts society. Why? If your admitting abortion is wrong, well then by your own definition it must be murder. Or is there some other more complex way to look at it? So then we should allow murder to be legal because the alternative is worse? The problem is your trying to walk a line, without setting a clear definition for yourself of what abortion really is. If it is wrong and indeed is murder, then we can't just look at it like gambling and make it legal so that it is performed in a quality setting. I believe that is the base of your arguement. That if abortion is illegal then it will be performed anyway, but in a setting that is more dangerous.
    This is why I think that abortion should not be, favored by liberals and not favored by consevatives. It really is killing a human, not a zygote. It stops a human pumping heart. The fetus thrown away looks exactly like a new born, but a little smaller, I have held two of them in my arms. They are real babies, but we choose to try to seperate them from us by using definitions like sentience or size or whatever. I ask everyone to define what a fetus is for yourself. Is it a human life or not. Its just that simple. If you choose to say its not a human life becuase of such and such, then fine, at least you have given yourself a reason. This is what pro-choicers fail to do. Set clear definitions for themselves and give reasons. They leave it under a wishy washy rule of personal choice. Freedom of choice is what every person should have, right up until it hurts another human. If that is not the issue, if we are not hurting other humans, Tell me why

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  32. Jim....I admire you for taking a stand. People don't like to hear "right or wrong" anymore. They want all gray. I guess I read Sork's statement a bit differently, but you make a good point that, in the end, it is just fence sitting. There IS a huge difference between gambling and abortion... any way you look at it.
    JA

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  33. Jim,

    Perhaps I should have been more explicit about the False Continuum fallacy, but I was attempting to be succinct. Let me start by clarifying my analogy with religions:

    Religions span a continuum from fringe cults (e.g. Westboro Baptist Church) to successful but strange pseduo-cults (maybe Scientology) to small religious sects (Christian Scientists perhaps) to mainstream religion (Catholic Church) and everything in between. Along this continuum it is easy to see that insane cults have many reprehensible qualities that are shared by moderately less insane pseudo-cults. I find Westboro and Scientology both morally reprehensible. Likewise scientology and christian scientists have commonalities that I dislike (stopping people from taking medicine), but I would generally conclude christian scientists are slightly more reasonable. And christian scientists are not too far from mainstream religions like Catholicism in some important respects. If pressed, one could draw a nearly seemless continuum between cults and mainstream religion. But this does imply that there are not obvious differences between the two that reasonable people can discern. Nonetheless, where one draws the line between cult and religion will always be somewhat arbitrary.

    Relating back to abortion, you asked where one draws the line between abortion and murder, implying that there is none, based on the premise that there are few qualitative differences between 24 and 28 week old fetuses and late term abortion fetuses and new borns, etc. I apologize if I have misunderstood, but that was my interpretation. My point is that, like religions, human beings exist in a seemless continuum of forms from a fertilized egg to a fetus to a child to a 100 year old man. It may practically difficult to say with precision when "life" begins, but nevertheless reasonable people discern a difference between a new born and a fetus at various stages. In fact, any one who supports IVF (I have yet to hear the religious right protest it) must realize the difference because they have moral qualms about throwing away fertilized eggs. So unless you actually think fertilized eggs constitute life you, to be consistent, you must admit that somewhere along the continuum from fertilized egg to adult life begins, and abortion/killing after that point constitutes murder.

    I happen to subscribe to the fact life begins at birth, but respect that reasonable people might disagree. The pro-choice policy, though you mock it, is the only policy that allows reasonable people to disagree within given limits (we all agree that "abortion" after birth would be murder). To the contrary, the pro-lifers impose seek to impose their morality on others, which would create a tyranny of the majority/minority, which our constitution specifically sets out to avoid.

    I hope that clarifies my point.

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  34. I meant to write:

    "...they have NO moral qualms about throwing away fertilized eggs."

    Important difference!

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  35. Hi Chris,
    I appreciate you clarifying your point, but still insist the False Continuum fallacy does not work with comparing religions. If you were to ask any memeber of the religions that you say only have sublte differences, they will give hard concrete differences that seperate their religion from what you identify as the next closest and therefor seemlessly similar religion. I believe the False Continuum fallacy does apply to human life, so there is no need for you to use religion as an example. I get your origional point.
    So let me also say that you are incorrect about the religious right having no moral qualms about throwing away fertilized eggs. The Catholic church is against IVF. this is also why the religious right is against embyonic stem cell research. So it is not a matter of an inconsistant view. And as long as one believes that killing a fertilized egg is wrong then the False Continuum fallacy does not apply. For me personally, my wife and I have done IVF and now have 2 beautiful 15 month twins because of it, but we also have 7 more embros that we froze rather than discard, and have made a commitment to give every embryo a chance for survival through IVF. If we have 7 more kids, so be it. Now I realize this can bring up another host of arguements since by freezing the embryos we are decreasing there overall chance of survival and one could make an argument that we are still doing wrong. I guess our need for a baby, allowed us to overlook that piticular gray. Did we sin? I do not really know.
    As far as you saying that after birth is murder and prebirth is not. You are really you make an egregious logical fallacy yourself not I. What does the event of birth have to do with murder? We can and have allowed birth to happen from 23 1/2 weeks up to 40 with survival. Why is killing a born 23 1/2 week baby murder, but not a 24 week baby not born? And when science pushes the limits even father and 19 week babys are surviving. Will you say we can kill them at will until they reach 24 weeks or 28 weeks or will you still use birth as a factor?

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  36. I meant to say you make an egregious logical fallacy yourself: the False Continuum fallacy, not I

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  37. chris: "The pro-choice policy, though you mock it, is the only policy that allows reasonable people to disagree within given limits (we all agree that "abortion" after birth would be murder)."

    And why? Why should "we" agree that such a thing is (or is not) murder? And, no. Reasonable people do not all agree that since technology has now made something feasible, that was not possible before, that will be what becomes right and reasonable?

    Here is another thing that technology has made feasible. One can now see with complete clarity every facial expression and detail of an unborn child inside of it's mothers body. Are you man enough to not only observe a child inside it's mother by ultrasound, but also man enough to watch a child either be dissected or burned alive during a termination of a pregnancy by ultrasound?

    I mean, after all, we are all reasonable people, aren't we.

    cal

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  38. Whoa there,

    It's possible to believe that abortion is wrong, while also believing that abortion is not *murder*, if the person who believes abortion is wrong does not believe that a zygote/embryo/fetus has the same rights as a born person.

    And jim fisher is wrong when he says that abortions kill fetuses. They can, certainly, but in the US and other modernized countries, they usually don't. Something like 90% of abortions in the US happen when the "baby" is still in the embryo stage, and doesn't resemble or barely resembles what we think of as a real baby at all, in fact. And even if they did have the form of miniature babies, an embryo is not the same thing as a thinking, fully formed human being with the same rights as other human beings. I think that the False Continuum fallacy is apt here.

    Also, nobody has presented this idea: when life begins is not the same thing as when human rights begin.

    Jim fisher is also mistaken when he says that the morning after pill prevents implantation. That is a small possibility with its use, yes, but its primary mechanism is to prevent fertilization.

    ReplyDelete
  39. And even if they did have the form of miniature babies, an embryo is not the same thing as a thinking, fully formed human being with the same rights as other human beings. I think that the False Continuum fallacy is apt here.

    adrienne,
    I thought I explained why the False Continuum fallacy applys to your logic and not mine, but apperntly I was not clear enough. I am saying as long as one believes ending any form of life from conception to 101 years old is murder, then it does not apply. It does however apply to your logic since you are saying at some point killing a baby is wrong, but have no clear definable point when that is. You use words like fetus and embryo and baby, but it is a seemless transition, so the False Continuum fallacy applys to your logic, not mine..

    Also, nobody has presented this idea: when life begins is not the same thing as when human rights begin.

    Why not? What are you saying human rights begin some time after one becomes human? Or a fetus is not human because? Don't you really have the burden of explaining when and why human rights begin. Since I am saying human rights begin at conception. the definition of conception is the moment life starts. Your definition is just anyones personal choice, just so long as its not after birth.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Jim: "And when science pushes the limits even farther and 19 week babys are surviving. Will you say we can kill them at will until they reach 24 weeks or 28 weeks or will you still use birth as a factor?"

    Complete slippery slope fallacy. People aren't stupid and will obviously have to adjust their positions as new technology requires. Even if science allows us to grow babies completely out of utero, reasonable may still conclude that fetuses of certain age (whether it be 19, 24, etc.) aren't alive or are not entitled to human rights as one person suggested.

    Cal, I don't understand what you wrote.

    In any case, maybe I should stop responding as abortion actually ranks pretty low on my list of political priorities. Relating to Massimo's original point, the wars that kill adults and waste scarce resources are vastly more pressing. So if I don't respond, it's not that concede anything, it's that I have moved on.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Chris,
    I am not asking you to concede anything. In all actuality I wish it were liberals that were pro-life and concervatives that were pro-choice. Since this way I would not be trying to convince poeple that are on the other side of the so called culture war that abortion is wrong.
    You should however admit you were wrong in the continuum fallicy, but I think you realize that. As well as you are wrong with the slippery slope fallacy. I am not saying if one thing is allowed then next thing will happen, which is what the slippery slope fallacy implys. I am saying you are wrong to begin with becasue you enter the flase continuum fallicy, then I gave more extreem examples to make my point. I believe the slippery slope fallacy is used more in the homosexual debate, where one says if we allow it then people will marry animals and such. I am saying abortion is just wrong now and only changed the time (in weeks) to show that you are entering the false continuum fallacy with your arguement.
    I realize what it would take to get a liberal to change their mind about abortion. I know I don't have that stuff. I just wish abortion was not a liberal/conservative subject. I think you see that your logic breaks down on the subject, but I know because we are perhaps on opposite sides of the political fence, it doesn't matter.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Distinctions between embryo, foetus, etc. could be meaningful, in the same sense that distinctions between child and adult could be meaningful. Sometimes it is necessary to try to divide up a continuum in order to have any laws at all. But the divisions are somewhat arbitrary.

    A child does not have the same rights as an adult. And adults have a degree of control over children that is necessary, though sometimes regrettable, as in some instances of the indoctrination of children, meting out of punishment, or refusal of medical treatment. The state steps in, but only in extreme cases.

    But there is a good reason for depriving children of some of their rights. They are as yet unable to make decisions. So it’s a necessary evil, or perhaps a good thing, depending on your point of view.

    Likewise it could be that a foetus might have a different set or scale of rights from a child, if there is a good reason for it. A foetus is inside the body of another human being, a fact which I believe has been neglected so far in these discussions. Obviously the foetus could, in some cases, be a threat to the mother’s well-being.

    Going further, an embryo might have different rights from a foetus, based on the degree of sentience.

    The degree of control that the mother has over the foetus may be regrettable in many cases, but, as in the examples above (refusal of medical treatment, etc.), the law can only do so much to disentangle all the ins and outs of the situation.

    Biological life may begin at conception, but civil life begins at birth. I was born on oct. x, 194x. That’s when my life began, in that second sense. To insist that the concept of murder be applied from conception on, could result in absurdities. Consider this newspaper headline: WOMAN CONVICTED OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER; JUDGE GRANTS ABSOLUTE DISCHARGE. This is exactly what happens when there is a trivial theft from a five-and-dime.

    None of this means there should be no laws whatsoever concerning abortion, but they should be the sort of laws that impose responsibilities on the people involved, not absolute interdictions.

    Finally, re-reading this comment, I realize I may be opening a Pandora’s box of misunderstandings. Hopefully not.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Clarification:
    "WOMAN CONVICTED OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER; JUDGE GRANTS ABSOLUTE DISCHARGE. This is exactly what happens when there is a trivial theft from a five-and-dime."

    I was imagining a case where the woman was convicted for using the morning after pill.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Suffenus,
    You bring an interesting addition into the mix. The fact that children do not have the same rights as an adult. Think about that for a moment. Why is that? Why do we not give the child the same rights as an adult? The main reason for this is for the childs own protection among other reasons, but formost it is the fact that if we gave children the same rights as adults, they would either end up hurt or dead. So we must remove some of childrens rights in order to protect their right to live. We do this because their sentience is not as great as ours. So when their sentience is even less (such as a fetus) we just don't care about them anymore?
    You started your post by saying that distinctions between fetus, child and embryo could be meaningful, so why do you not have to come up with one meaningful difference to allow killing one? Birth is not a meaningful difference in that it happens at an arbitrary time, more related to the mother than the developement of the baby.
    Do you think it is wrong to abort an 8 month old fetus, if so why?

    ReplyDelete
  45. Jim

    Protection of children is not the only reason for depriving them of rights. Protection of ourselves also plays a part. Think of a child with a gun, a child with a car. (These things do happen!) It is not lack of sentience, by the way, but lack of decision-making power and responsibility that is behind the deprivation of rights. (I know. that's nitpicking).

    Birth is a meaningful difference, in that it frees the baby of the mother, and the mother of the baby. The mother's health is no longer in the equation.

    As for the 8-month old fetus, I guess that's the whole point of distinguishing between embryo and fetus on the grounds of sentience, as I believe the law already does. One could need a very superior justification, akin to self-defense, to justify late-term abortion, but the case is weaker for the embryo. Still, I don't know that I could totally rule out late-term abortion in certain circumstances. Should a mother be forced to undergo a C-section to preserve the life of an 8-month old fetus, when her own life is also in jeopardy?

    I know there are many aspects to this debate. It may be that the prevailing attitude to abortion is far too casual (Cal's example of the women who have had multiple abortions). But I think it is also likely that it is beyond the capacity of the law to deal with all cases. Hence a rule of thumb. And the type of things that Sork mentioned might also be relevant.

    My bottom line is that I would hate to see women dying or going insane because of an absolute prohibition on abortion, supported my a misapplications of definitions of murder and life.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Clarification (another one)"
    "Should a mother be forced to undergo a C-section to preserve the life of an 8-month old fetus, when her own life is also in jeopardy?"

    Let me rephrase. If the fetus right to life were absolute, then a woman should be forced to have a C-section ,. if it was necessary to preserve the life of the fetus. I know most women would go for it, but the point is it is a decision she makes with the help of her doctor, it is not imposed.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Suffenus,
    You bring up many valid points. My wish is not to prevent abortion when the mothers life is at stake. In most instances when the mothers life is at stake and aborting will save her, the baby's life is in just as much danger, so preventing abortion in these cases would not be to anyones benifit. But when making law, we need to identify what is the majority of the situation. The fact is the majority of abortions are not performed to save anyones life, they are performed to allow the convienence of the mothers life to continue, and not be inhibited by having a baby and either raising it or putting it up for adoption. We can make valid law that would allow for both illegal and legal abortion. It may not be simple, but could be done. One way would be to include the expert opinion of doctors as to the danger of keeping the baby.
    Saying this can't be done is kind of the slippery slope fallacy at work. We must allow abortion and give woman total freedom because if we don't then next they will have to die to try and save their babies.
    Using sentience as a rule opens a whole host of issues. Perhaps we should not give the right to life to the mentally challenged? We have no idea when sentience begins. I have personally held a 21 week fetus that twitched at my touch (although on this very sight I was told I should believe scientific data over my own personal experience). So I did just that and tried to get information on sentience for fetuses. I found a pretty big range on when scientist believe sentience begins, from 18 weeks to 24 weeks. That whole range can be legally aborted. To me its a null point because I do not believe sentience has anything to do with someones right to life. If I did I would have to believe someone with less sentience than I deserves less rights.
    I may be wrong Suffenus, but it sounds like you may be open to some differnt thought than what our current law allows?

    ReplyDelete
  48. Jim,

    "Using sentience as a rule opens a whole host of issues. Perhaps we should not give the right to life to the mentally challenged?"

    Probably this could be solved by tri-angulation. Sentience of pre-born would be the criterion?

    "I may be wrong Suffenus, but it sounds like you may be open to some differnt thought than what our current law allows?"

    I am not sure what the current law is (in the US), being Canadian. Here the norm is abortions are performed at hospitals, and there is an abortion committee. But free abortion clinics also exist, and there have been legal fights in 9 of 10 provinces. These fights usually revolve around getting Medicare funding for the abortion. I'm not sure, but I think the various governments always fail in eliminating the clinics, but the clinics always fail in getting the funding. There are a lot of abortions regardless (sounds like a lot when numbers are quoted).

    I think there is a point where there is not much point in fighting abortion on demand, e.g., a real or hypothetical morning after pill. Also, I don't really think that defining life from conception (for legal purposes) is very useful, at least it is only one factor. Remember the Burning Building thought experiment that somebody used the last time this was discussed? It seems that people do regard sentience as a relevant criterion regardless of their formal definition of life.

    But when I hear someone say "Oh, I'll just get an abortion" I do admit I cringe a little.

    ReplyDelete
  49. But when I hear someone say "Oh, I'll just get an abortion" I do admit I cringe a little.

    I only know of 4 women personally who had abortions. Of the 4, I am only close enough to two of them to discuss it openly. both of them regret it with every ounce of their life.

    ReplyDelete
  50. suf "The main reason for this is for the childs own protection among other reasons, but formost it is the fact that if we gave children the same rights as adults, they would either end up hurt or dead."


    Now and instead, adults just want "protection" from their own questionable behaviour. What sort of a "human" then does that make them... having even less sentience than children of any age, unborn children, an amoeba...

    It bothers me far more that many of the advocates of this practice do not even ask where this will take us. The eugenics we subscribe to for now, relies on the individual to suggest whether she or he is fit enough to raise a child. This is an old trick by eugenicists to make those in a so-called "free society" think that it was their idea first. Sooner or later, I am certain that it will not be up to the individual any longer.

    cal

    ReplyDelete
  51. THE CAMPS

    http://www.mtsu.edu/~baustin/holocamp.html

    "The T-4 camouflage organization created for the medical killing of mental and physical defectives defines by the Nazi government as undesirable was also known as the Reich Work Group of Sanitoriums and Nursing Homes [Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft Heil und Pflegeanstalten]. It operated from the Berlin Chancellery, at Tiergartenstrasse 4, hence the "T4"code name. The program was rationalized as the elimination of "life unworthy of life."

    This program paved the way for the Holocaust in several important ways. First, it had the effect of legitimizing government-sponsored killing. In keeping with the Nazi emphasis on racial purity, eugenics and national health, euthanasia was presented as a necessary program for eliminating those who carried defective genetic materials which might endanger the quality of the "Aryan" stock.

    Second, it was the beginning stage in the corruption of the German medical profession. Robert J. Lifton [Nazi Doctors] asks the question: How did a profession committed to healing, the protection of human life and the relief of human suffering become part of the Nazi killing machine? The apparent answer to this question is that it was a gradual process, a "slippery slope" which began with the Euthanasia Programme of "mercy killing" and resulted in the full scale involvement of some members of the medical profession in the mass extermination of Jews and others in the Nazi death camps.

    Third, the T-4 program was crucial in developing the technology which would later be applied to mass murder. Euthanasia centers, such as the ones at Hadamar and Brandenburg were equipped with gas chambers (using carbon monoxide) and crematoria.

    For additional information on the T-4 program and for statistical details regarding the number of victims of this program see The Euthanasia Programme ." http://www.mtsu.edu/~baustin/euthan.html

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  52. jim,

    they regret it with 'every ounce of their life'?
    that doesn't even make sense.

    i also know 4 women who have had abortions, and they all agree that although it was a horrible thing to have to do, it was absolutely necessary in their current circumstances.
    if they could go back, they would make the same choice.

    ReplyDelete
  53. And then there are the people want to have children from their dead children. Technology opens a whole list of issues that we have never had to face before.

    Headline description:
    Parents of slain soldier can use his sperm

    "Four years after their son was killed in battle, family receives authorization from court to use his sperm to bring grandchild to world with woman who isn't his partner. More than 40 women express consent to carry his child."

    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/
    0,7340,L-3352706,00.html

    cal

    ReplyDelete
  54. To anon:

    I don't doubt that such women do exist. I think it is totally possible to harden one's heart long enough that such a thing appears even to be sensible to do.

    There is, however, the matter of how concentration camp doctors came to the point of hardening (in series of adjustments) their hearts to do unspeakable and cruel things to innocent children. It takes quite a sophisticated string of rationalizations, and self deceptions to get there. And in this case, this type of sophistication does not improve the person or create any meaningful sort of "progress" for humanity.
    cal

    "they regret it with 'every ounce of their life'?
    that doesn't even make sense. i also know 4 women who have had abortions, and they all agree that although it was a horrible thing to have to do, it was absolutely necessary in their current circumstances.
    if they could go back, they would make the same choice."

    ReplyDelete
  55. Anonymous,

    i also know 4 women who have had abortions, and they all agree that although it was a horrible thing to have to do, it was absolutely necessary in their current circumstances.
    if they could go back, they would make the same choice.


    Wow,you know 4 woman who had abortions too, what a coincidence, we know the exact same amount of people who had abortions.

    I was actaully being very honest about the two womens feelings I described and not making up imaginary possible senarios on 4 woman, as you are.

    You said in your post of four imaginary woman, that "although it was a horrible thing to have to do"

    Why did they say it was a horrible thing to have to do? Because it was painful? They missed a day of work? They don't like hospitals? Which is it? My guess is, it may be the fact they had to kill their baby? If they didn't do anything immoral, why was it so horrible?

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  56. Jim,

    we are missing two family members because of terminated pregnancies.

    I know that my sister-in-law does regret this choice. But I think that she is now an awesome mother and a wonderful human being. I do not know about my hub's grandmother, she has lost her mind. Alzheimer’s, you know. But ages ago, (60 yrs ago) to be real honest, there was an affair that took place. So I guess that some people thought that was the thing to do back then.

    I get the sense that people will do (or allow for) this whether they think it is right or not. As long as it “saves the day” just about any extreme action can be reconciled for the sake of the presumed effects on their long term happiness. But the truth is that none of us can really see the future. We only think (and guess) that we actually know our own mind on these matters.

    But do we?

    Some people eventually become terribly unhappy with children that they planned for, and others are absolutely delighted with children that they had no intention of having.


    In the end we see that all relationships really wind up being a matter of what we choose to make of them anyway. So it is really anyone's guess what you might have thought of (or what would have became of) a child that was intentionally allowed to slip away into eternity.
    cal

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  57. Cal,
    This is so true. One of the two situations I was speaking of is my best friends wife (was his girl friend at the time). One year later (after abortion) they had a boy, and now have 4 children. What changed in that one year I am not sure, but now they live with regret.

    One thing I always make sure I do in these cases, is make sure I do not judge. As a fellow Christian you know it is not our place. Christians standing outside abortion clinics screaming "murderer", only make things worse and seperate the two sides further. I remember when I was pro-choice, these right wing activists made my blood boil. It wasn't until I held a 21 week baby, that I understood abortion was wrong. The word "Pro-choice" is very powerfull, especially if your a liberal thinker, which I tend to be many times. It implys freedom, which is what the good ol U.S. is all about, right. I can understand why people are pro-choice, since I was pro-choice for most of my life. So I certainly can not claim moral superiority. I really don't think most people really understand what it is their killing. Even if we want Pro-choice, we should at least allow woman having abortions to make informed choices. If they are 16 weeks pregnant they should understand exactly what a 16 week fetus is. How far its developed. What it looks like. How can anyone be against informed choice?

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  58. Am all for informed choice as are you, Jim. There is this problem of 'the will' however. In Nazi Germany way too many people who participated in the holocaust were both well educated and well informed.

    I've been reading lately of some of the medical advances that have come forth out of Israel. If Hitler had been successful, we would be without a great many wonderful advances in science and medicine. Does anyone take into consideration what it is we may have killed off in terms of cures (and even peacemakers) because of this practice? I do.

    I know. I know. The ratio of troubled people must rise too, but what can you do? The fact is, we just don't know the future.

    (salt rooms as a (cure?) for asthma)
    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/
    news.php3?id=118586

    (development, discovered by scientists at the Weizmann Institute, may facilitate the revival of dead brain cells caused by head trauma, stroke or disease.)

    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/
    news.php3?id=119830

    Interesting stuff.
    cal

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  59. It's funny you put it that way Cal, I dont think the fact that these babies will amount to something is really a legitimate arguement for or against abortion. Its murder, just that simple. But when my wife was pregnant with my now 15 year old daughter, I asked her to get an abortion. I was 19, she was 17. We did not have a pot to piss in. I was unemployed. Luckly my wife was a devout Catholic and knew better. At that time I did nothing but party. Once I had a kid, I was forced to keep finding better jobs, in order to provide for them. They lived with her mother until my daughter was 14 months old. My yearning to live with my daughter was my motivator. I went through 5 different jobs having no degree. Each job was better than the next, and I got better at what I did. Now I work for Gillette as a Group Leader making $80,000 to 100,000. And I literally owe all of it to having a baby when I wan't ready. Most abortions are had for the exact same reason I wanted one.

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  60. I know and appreciate what you think, Jim, but at this point I am appealing to "the humanists". ;)

    If one happened to be a humanist, "human potential" would certainly be an important part of the argument for existence. Personalizing what matters to the individual, should include with it what will not degrade the ethics and practices of the collective world society at large.

    yet...

    "Among the major assumptions underlying humanism are the following: (a) human nature is inherently good;"

    Is it? What kind of a religion is this! Even the humanist knows that this is not true.

    "(b) individuals are free and autonomous, thus they are capable of making major personal choices;"

    That may (or may not) lead to the better good of the world and societies at large. It is a principle chosen at random, and produces random (not positive) results.


    "(c) human potential for growth and development is virtually unlimited;"

    That could be true if human growth and potential meant not limiting the "development" of other less fortunate or challenged beings.

    I would decry what all is not being said or understood within this assumption.


    "(d) self-concept plays an important role in growth and development;"

    Self concept must include the health and welfare of society at large, otherwise it will lead to both small and large scale disasters on both interpersonal and universal levels.

    "(e) individuals have an urge toward self- actualization;"

    A rather worthless and lonely endeavor if one does not opt to take others one cares for with us and seek to enhance their lives along with ours.

    "(f) reality is defined by each person; and"

    The best possible way to begin a world war. No potential for unity.

    "(g) individuals have responsibility to both themselves and to others (Elias & Merriam, 1980)."

    After all the aforementioned humanist principles have been both implemented and presumably believed, what responsibility could a humanist think he has towards others?
    cal

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  61. (1) A question that naturally arises is: why have the biases discussed here survived evolutionary selection? Could it be that in the real world of human interaction, where self-interested parties struggle for scarce resources -- as opposed to contrived laboratory experiments, or the struggle against nature represented by the gaming table -- a preference for force, a bias towards mistrust of actual or potential enemies, and greater-than-objectively-justified self-confidence, were positive survival factors?

    (2) There are many human foibles, and one of them is the tendency to ascribe our rivals' successes to their exploitation of the others. "We play fair, they cheat." "Our opponents appeal to the basest instincts in human nature."

    (3) It could be argued that another human bias, competing with some of the others, is the belief that "the other guy" is pretty much like us, subject to the same hopes and fears, and operating with roughly the same calculus of costs and benefits of projected actions.

    This bias is often true. But not always. This assumption proved fatally wrong for the statesmen dealing with Hitler. The belief that the Iraqi masses would seize the opportunity offered by us to build a liberal democracy in their country is another example.

    Many well-meaning programs to help the poor founder because the nice middle-class people who put them together assume that their intended beneficiaries are just nice middle-class people who don't have enough money. Thus aid agencies pour millions into Africa, only to watch it revert to the state of nature.

    The kind and tolerant Dutch and Scandanavians who opened their countries to mass migration by Muslims are learning the hard way that we are not all basically alike, except in the most fundamental biological way.

    (4) Yet another bias is the selective retention in memory, and use of, evidence from experience. Racists will tend to recall with clarity encounters with badly-behaved members of other races. Anti-racists will show the same bias in their recollection of intelligent, kind and generous -- should I say "articulate" members of the same race.

    So there are plenty of biasses to be exploited by both Left and Right.

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