Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Gods and devils and something from nothing

August 8, 2020

No science and no philosophy or theology has still got its head around the something from nothing problem.

Something from nothing:

This is a very handy subterfuge often used in science and mathematics. When looking for something unknown, zero can always be converted into the sum of something and not-something. So it is always possible to imagine what the something is, evoke it from zero and claim that the not-something exists but cannot be found.

0 = X + ~X

Anything can be derived from nothing provided its negative counter-part can also be tolerated (in absentia if necessary).

We observe matter.

We haven’t a clue as to where this matter came from. So we devise the concept of matter and an equivalent amount of anti-matter at the origin of everything. But we cannot find this anti-matter in sufficient quantities to negate all the matter we observe. The global nothing is not preserved. That leads to the next subterfuge. It was all energy to begin with. Some of that energy converted itself into matter. That does not quite explain where that energy came from. Of course “nothing” might have decomposed into lumps of energy and of not-energy. The energy, it is then surmised, is that which is driving the expansion of the universe or the inflation of the universe or both. The lumps of not-energy are more elusive. Where that might be is not yet part of the next subterfuge.

nothing can be anything

This is a powerful technique but still a subterfuge. The existence of matter here in our universe can always be balanced by antimatter somewhere else such that a total nothing can be maintained. But matter and antimatter when they meet annihilate each other creating energy (according to E=mc2). Now that creates the puzzle of where energy came from. But that is easily solved by creating the concept of negative energy. Energy here can be balanced by negative energy there. Negative energy is a concept used in physics to explain the nature of certain fields, including the gravitational field and various quantum field effects.

Modern physics and cosmology are based on the fundamental premise that the Greater Universe is a Great Big Zero.

Of course some resolve the something from nothing problem by invoking a Creator. The same technique (or subterfuge) is also available to theology. But just as resolving the matter/antimatter created energy then leads to negative energy, the invoking of a Creator needs the conjuring of anti-Creators. A Creator here balanced by a Destroyer there. In Hinduism, for example, Brahma is the Creator balanced by Shiva the Destroyer. (Vishnu is the preserver and is in balance anyway). One problem for most religions and theologies is that they must create Devils subservient or inferior to their gods. Theologies collapse if devils are taken to be equally powerful, but negative, gods. Satan, for example, is a fallen angel where the angels were created by God. Thus Satan is more a balance for the Son of God rather than a balance for God. (I ignore the inconsistencies of all-powerful gods incapable of controlling subservient devils).

Heavens need Hells. Gods lead necessarily to Devils. And,

Gods + Devils = Zero.


Related:

Antimatter (CERN):

In 1928, British physicist Paul Dirac wrote down an equation that combined quantum theory and special relativity to describe the behaviour of an electron moving at a relativistic speed. The equation – which won Dirac the Nobel Prize in 1933 – posed a problem: just as the equation x2= 4 can have two possible solutions (x = 2 or x = −2), so Dirac’s equation could have two solutions, one for an electron with positive energy, and one for an electron with negative energy. But classical physics (and common sense) dictated that the energy of a particle must always be a positive number. Dirac interpreted the equation to mean that for every particle there exists a corresponding antiparticle, exactly matching the particle but with opposite charge. For example, for the electron there should be an “antielectron”, or “positron”, identical in every way but with a positive electric charge. The insight opened the possibility of entire galaxies and universes made of antimatter.But when matter and antimatter come into contact, they annihilate – disappearing in a flash of energy. The Big Bang should have created equal amounts of matter and antimatter. So why is there far more matter than antimatter in the universe?

Antimatter:

… In theory, a particle and its anti-particle (for example, a proton and an antiproton) have the same mass, but opposite electric charge and other differences in quantum numbers. For example, a proton has positive charge while an antiproton has negative charge.

A collision between any particle and its anti-particle partner leads to their mutual annihilation, giving rise to various proportions of intense photons (gamma rays), neutrinos, and sometimes less-massive particle-antiparticle pairs. The majority of the total energy of annihilation emerges in the form of ionizing radiation. If surrounding matter is present, the energy content of this radiation will be absorbed and converted into other forms of energy, such as heat or light. The amount of energy released is usually proportional to the total mass of the collided matter and antimatter, in accordance with the mass–energy equivalence equation, E=mc2.

Antimatter particles bind with each other to form antimatter, just as ordinary particles bind to form normal matter. For example, a positron (the antiparticle of the electron) and an antiproton (the antiparticle of the proton) can form an antihydrogen atom. The nuclei of antihelium have been artificially produced with difficulty, and these are the most complex anti-nuclei so far observed. Physical principles indicate that complex antimatter atomic nuclei are possible, as well as anti-atoms corresponding to the known chemical elements.

There is strong evidence that the observable universe is composed almost entirely of ordinary matter, as opposed to an equal mixture of matter and antimatter. This asymmetry of matter and antimatter in the visible universe is one of the great unsolved problems in physics. The process by which this inequality between matter and antimatter particles developed is called baryogenesis.

 


On the matter of matter (or how something came from nothing)


 

 

There can be no intrinsic value to a human life (or to anything)

July 14, 2020
  1. If every human life has a fixed value, and a higher value is a good thing for humankind, then the greater the population of humans the better.
  2. If human life has a variable value, always positive but varying over time and varying by individual, then humankind is still best served by increasing population.
  3. If a human life has a variable value which can even be negative, then the value to humankind must be considered by a value summation over the entire life of an individual.

I question whether value (of anything) can ever be intrinsic. Nothing has value unless

  1. judged by a mind (or a consensus of minds),
  2. against a value scale to judge by.

I read an article recently which argued that life had intrinsic value and the intrinsic value of a human life was greater than that of a cockroach. To whom, I wondered? By what value scale? Qualifying the word value with the word intrinsic is meaningless.

Intrinsic value is often used to define the financial worth of an asset but I am not concerned with that particular use of the words. Philosophy distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic value and takes intrinsic value to be a necessary precursor for judgements of morality.

Intrinsic value has traditionally been thought to lie at the heart of ethics. Philosophers use a number of terms to refer to such value. The intrinsic value of something is said to be the value that that thing has “in itself,” or “for its own sake,” or “as such,” or “in its own right.” Extrinsic value is value that is not intrinsic. ….. Many philosophers take intrinsic value to be crucial to a variety of moral judgments. For example, according to a fundamental form of consequentialism, whether an action is morally right or wrong has exclusively to do with whether its consequences are intrinsically better than those of any other action one can perform under the circumstances. ……

The question “What is intrinsic value?” is more fundamental than the question “What has intrinsic value?,” but historically these have been treated in reverse order. For a long time, philosophers appear to have thought that the notion of intrinsic value is itself sufficiently clear to allow them to go straight to the question of what should be said to have intrinsic value. ….. 

Suppose that someone were to ask you whether it is good to help others in time of need. Unless you suspected some sort of trick, you would answer, “Yes, of course.” If this person were to go on to ask you why acting in this way is good, you might say that it is good to help others in time of need simply because it is good that their needs be satisfied. If you were then asked why it is good that people’s needs be satisfied, you might be puzzled. You might be inclined to say, “It just is.” Or you might accept the legitimacy of the question and say that it is good that people’s needs be satisfied because this brings them pleasure. But then, of course, your interlocutor could ask once again, “What’s good about that?”  …….  At some point, though, you would have to put an end to the questions, not because you would have grown tired of them (though that is a distinct possibility), but because you would be forced to recognize that, if one thing derives its goodness from some other thing, which derives its goodness from yet a third thing, and so on, there must come a point at which you reach something whose goodness is not derivative in this way, something that “just is” good in its own right, something whose goodness is the source of, and thus explains, the goodness to be found in all the other things that precede it on the list. It is at this point that you will have arrived at intrinsic goodness. ….  That which is intrinsically good is nonderivatively good; it is good for its own sake. 

But intrinsic is as subjective as value is or morality is. Rather than intrinsic value leading to morality, it is the subjective value scale of morality in a mind, which leads to an assessment of being intrinsic. And the most fundamental value in any mind is it’s own perception of what is good and what is bad. And that is subjective.

The words “intrinsic” and “value”, together and by themselves, are meaningless. In fact, the word “value” alone, only has meaning when assessed by someone as being “of value to someone or to something”, using some subjective value scale. The net intrinsic value of the known universe is zero. But even that assessment is subjective.


 

As sanctity declines, the sanctimonious proliferate

July 6, 2020

Sacred and sanctity originated with gods and religions but nowadays are applied regularly in non-religious contexts. Sanctity – in the meanings of inviolability, or deserving of respect – is claimed for many things but no claim for sanctity (religious or otherwise) is actually anything more than wishful thinking for a desired state. From sacred also come sanctimony and the sanctimonious. Once upon a time, sanctimony was a quality displayed by saints, but it is now always about a claim, or a display, of a pretended, self-proclaimed, moral superiority. I observe that sanctimony is invariably called upon by the sanctimonious when rational argument fails.


Sacreddedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity; devoted exclusively to one service or use; worthy of religious veneration; entitled to reverence and respect; of or relating to religion; not secular or profane; unassailable; inviolable; highly valued and important

Sanctity: godliness; holiness of life and character; the quality or state of being holy or sacred; inviolability; deserving of veneration or respect

Sanctimony: pretended or hypocritical moral superiority; (archaic) the quality of holiness or godliness

Sanctimonious: hypocritically pious or devout; falsely claiming moral superiority


Sacrosanct: having extreme sanctity (extreme inviolability, sort of like the most best)


A search for sanctity reveals that over 90% of secular usage is in the context of human life. The next most common occurrences are with reference to the sanctity of marriage or of law. In the context of religious associations it is still used, though less dogmatically, for, among other things, the sanctity of the Church; of priests; of temples; of holy places. Whereas the original religious usage implied something inherently extraordinary, out of this world, the word has been debased by its use to try and impart a sense of importance to concepts or situations, where there is, in fact, nothing very special. In a secular context, the word is now used widely to imply that something should be inviolable and deserving of extraordinary veneration or respect (for example with the sanctity of nature, or of the scientific method, or of natural forces, or of government, or of institutions).

As a philosophical concept the sanctity of life derives from religious or ethical schools of thought.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: According to this ‘sanctity of life’ view, human life is inherently valuable and precious, demanding respect from others and reverence for oneself. 

WikipediaIn religion and ethics, the inviolability or sanctity of life is a principle of implied protection regarding aspects of sentient life that are said to be holy, sacred, or otherwise of such value that they are not to be violated. This can be applied to both animals and humans or micro-organisms, ….

But even in philosophy and logic the sanctity of life is just an assertion. It does not flow logically from, and is not inherent in, existence or in life. References to the sanctity of life  – which overwhelmingly dominates usage of the word – are so far from reality that the word sanctity has become just a parody of meaning inviolable. Using the phrase itself has become little more than virtue signalling. The association of inviolability with sanctity has been fatally diluted by the indiscriminate use of the word. Sanctity of life has even become a politically charged term in the abortion debate (with abortion supporters denying sanctity of life, while abortion opponents are in favour of such sanctity). But they both miss the point and lose track of the real issue of when life can be said to begin. The word is further debased in its meaning of inviolability when those supporting abortion oppose capital punishment and vice versa. Where sanctity was once used to denote the fact of inviolability, it has now come to mean an invocation of, or a desire for inviolability. The sanctity of the law is another phrase which has little to do with any inherent quality of law. Laws are merely man-made rules and regulations and they vary across space and change all the time. There is nothing sacred about law – only pragmatism for the functioning of societies. However, those charged with maintaining compliance, (the prevailing power, governments, police, courts, judges, lawyers, …..), have a strong desire that The Law, and laws, be considered inviolable. When they extol the sanctity of the law it is partly wishful thinking and partly a desire to protect themselves from criticism for failing to ensure compliance. Similarly the sanctity of marriage stems from religious and social desires for stability, rather than from any inherent inviolability of the married state. A claim to sanctity of the scientific process is used far too often to smother dissenting thought, even though the essence of the scientific process is to dissent and to question. Sanctity, as used, no longer means inviolability; it now means a presumption of, and a desire for, inviolability. Sanctity is on the decline and it is difficult to find any use of the word where inviolability is any more than a  desire (sometimes virtuous, sometimes not). The sanctity of religious institutions and places and people has been utterly debased by the all too many examples of inviolability being used to protect bad behaviour. Sanctuary derives from sanctity of place and this notion has been so abused as to be anti-social in itself. The sanctity of life or law or marriage or scientific method are empty claims and, again, usually invoked to protect errant behaviour. False claims of sanctity end up as sanctimony.

Sanctimony and the sanctimonious, though, are thriving. From sanctimony being used to describe the quality of being holy or virtuous, by the late 16th century (Shakespeare), it was also being used in the meaning of a hypocritical piousness. By the 19th century, the word was almost exclusively used to mean a hypocritical and pretended claim of moral superiority. Through the 1800s, the use grew of sanctimonious as a derogatory term for hypocritical and righteous do-gooders. In the present day, a dearth of saints and the saintly has all but killed off the original meaning.

The variety of platforms now available for public “debate” (including for proselytizing, preaching, bullying and haranguing) is unprecedented. In these “debates”, when arguments fail, the final defense is to claim moral superiority. As a last resort, bringing in Hitler or the Nazis makes it easy to claim moral superiority (Godwin’s Law). The nice thing about moral superiority is that it is “righteous” and makes it “ethical” to ignore rational argument. Sanctimony is especially useful when there is no time for exercise of mind. Social media provide little space, and less time, for developing arguments. It provides the fertile ground for sanctimony to flourish. Debate is by way of competing assertions. The weight of an assertion is determined by the number of “likes” it attracts, which in turn, is influenced by the perceptions of righteousness, political correctness and perceived virtue. The greater the level of sanctimony that an assertion can bring to bear, the greater the chance of winning more likes (and never mind the argument). The weaker the argument for a position, the greater the need for sanctimony. The sanctimonious are those with the greatest need, and some skill, to demonstrate sanctimony. (It can be quite amusing when the sanctimonious lose elections. As with an indignant Jeremy Corbyn who, after his resounding election defeat, claimed to have won the argument but lost the election). A reference to a sanctimonious moron could be taken as tautology.

It used to be the plebeians. Then in the 1830s, they became the “Great Unwashed”. Their natural successors today are the sanctimonious.

There is probably a connection between the decline of sanctity and the rise of the sanctimonious. When there is no real sanctity, false claims of purported sanctity lead to sanctimony. I have no doubt that investigating the connection could soon provide a suitable subject for a PhD in Social Sanctimony.


 

Juxtaposition of words where meaning eludes thought

June 29, 2020

The ability to think is genetic. Thinking, though, requires some inbuilt logic. Therefore logic must precede thought but where did that logic come from? Perhaps it emerges with thought. Humans are not unique as a species in being able to think.

Thought gives rise to meanings. The capability for language is genetic. The need to communicate meanings leads to the invention of languages. (“Language” is discovered but “languages” are invented). Many animals have some form of language. Humans are unique as a species in having written language and in being able to record language. (But animals do make use of some media which humans cannot: scent, ultrasound ..).

And when we meet our nearest aliens who “speak” to each other in bursts of X-rays we should not assume that they are backward because they don’t speak English.

It would seem that the capability for thought and language ability are both genetic and must exist simultaneously. It is not that either thought or language ability are a consequence of the other, but we must distinguish between the ability to have language and specific languages. It may well be that language ability and thinking ability only can appear together. The sequence is from thought to meaning to expressions of meaning using an invented language as a tool. However humans are also unique in the feedback loop between language and thought which raises thinking to heights not seen in any other species.

We invent words to express meanings. We invent grammars as rules to combine words to enable more complex meanings and to give precision in communication. There are many meanings for which we do not yet have words. But the languages and the words we invent are capable of expressing many more meanings than our thought can grasp.

We can juxtapose words and comply with grammar, but they give meanings which tantalizingly elude thought.

 


 

Man’s behaviour to man and the “human rights” delusion

June 25, 2020

During this coronavirus pandemic, many authoritarian, draconian and oppressive measures have been used across the world. They have been justified, and accepted, as necessary during a crisis. Some measures will, no doubt, remain after the crisis is over. Many infected, old people across Europe, have intentionally received a lower level of care to conserve resources. There have been cases of being denied oxygen or respirators to “protect the health care system”. In some cases, in care homes, old people have been put directly onto palliative, end-of-life care without even an attempt to treat the virus infection. “Years of useful life remaining” is euphemistically claimed not to be age-discrimination. Care decisions have not been irrational but they have exposed the myth that people’s lives are of equal value. 

As a subject, “human rights” is surrounded by such an impenetrable halo of sanctimonious political correctness that any rational discourse is suppressed. Yet the entire concept is imaginary and misleading.


I have borrowed freely from an earlier, related post: Humans are not equal


What makes a being human?

Infant chimpanzees treated and brought up as human babies, very quickly demonstrate by their behaviour that they are not human. The very few documented cases of feral children have shown that while they looked and were genetically “human”, they had an incapacity for language, social interaction and other learned “human” behaviour. Many animals have been taught some very limited skills to communicate with their humans, but they do not, by any stretch of the imagination, exhibit human behaviour. Working dogs show an ability to be able to understand some part of the abstract goals of their humans, but their behaviour is easily distinguished from that of humans. Many people behave towards their pets as if they were part of their human family, but the behaviour of their pets remains that of the animal species they belong to. Some have even tried to accord “human” status to rivers and mountains and trees. Within this century we may well achieve autonomous entities having artificial intelligence and some degree of sapience and even sentience. We may then be diverted into discussing how they are to be treated and what “rights” they are to accorded.

Does human identity lie in form or in substance? The form is appearance. The substance lies in the behaviour exhibited – not in the behaviour received. Our appearance is determined by our genes. Robots, with AI and maybe even sentience, may or may not have a humanoid appearance. The real challenge will come when we create, or encounter, an entity which does not have the form of a human, yet exhibits the full spectrum of human behaviour. Treating a chimp or a pet or any entity as a human does not make it human. My contention is that the identity of an entity lies in substance rather than form. Identity is not determined by received behaviour but by behaviour exhibited. A humanoid robot, which followed all of Asimov’s three Laws of Robotics, or was incapable of exhibiting anger or aggression or violence, would be a marvelous robot but very far from being human.

human being is a being which exhibits human behaviour.

Man’s behaviour to man.

Humans are born unique. In one legal estimate by the FBI, the criterion for a match between two human DNA profiles was to be considered satisfied if the probability of a mismatch was less than 1 in 260 billion. All the humans who have ever lived over 200,000 years as “anatomically modern humans” number about 110 billion. No two have ever been exactly alike. Humans are not born “equal” in their genes, nor are they “equal” in their nurture. They are not, through their lifetimes, equal in the behaviour they exhibit nor in the behaviour they receive.

A “right” is an entitlement to privilege. The universe provides no entitlements of any kind to any entity. No living thing has any entitlements, not even any entitlement just to live. For all creatures, survival is a result, not an entitlement. The universe we perceive functions according to laws which must be complied with, but the universe makes no promises beyond these. The world does not owe any living things – including humans – anything, whether as individuals or as species. No species has any entitlement to exist. Human survival or happiness or suffering are resultant states, not entitlements.

A so-called ” human right” is an entitlement to privilege; where an entitlement is a promise and a privilege is a position of advantage for an individual or a group. Though promised, a benefit may not materialize. Only when realized does a privilege actually become a benefit. All human societies, ranging from families to book clubs to political parties to countries, grant conditional “rights” to their qualified members. No society can, or does, provide any guarantee that the “rights” it bestows will actually be realised as benefits. All so-called “human rights” are imaginary entitlements to privilege. They have no physical existence. They do not flow naturally from the laws of the universe. The post-WW2 concept of “human rights” is as an artificial, social construct of universal entitlements of unconditional privilege. No qualification is required. It is of an imagined, social contract between every individual and the rest of humanity. The individual’s entitlements are to be considered free of the cost of any duties and are an obligation upon everybody else. Ostensibly, the purpose of the UN Declaration on Human Rights is to “improve” the behaviour of humans to each other. It is a commentary about received behaviour but does not directly address the actions which are the root causes of the received behaviour. The question is whether this “entitlements approach” has had any real impact on the behaviour of humans to other humans.

It has not.

It can not.

The range of potential human behaviour

For any creature, it’s DNA identifies the individual and the cluster of similar entities (species) it belongs to. The genome creates the species-specific, envelope of behaviour which encompasses all that all the individuals of any specific species can possibly exhibit. The scope of individual human behaviour (what each person is capable of doing) is whatever is enabled first by the individual human genome and then as constrained by the individual’s own abilities, physical state, cognitive processes and by the natural laws. Though always within the envelope of behaviour which is characteristic for the species, a person’s actions are also constrained by capability. For all living things actions are driven primarily by the individual’s perceptions of self-interest. For humans, this derives from the cognition which gives rise to reason. One person’s self-interest could well be, and often is, in conflict with that of others. Often, whether intentionally or not, one human’s behaviour causes harm to others. What constitutes “bad” behaviour is a subjective judgement. Actions may be intentional or accidental, may be motivated or reactive, but in most cases will not be considered “bad” by the perpetrators. We behave differently with different people at different times. We are capable of being, simultaneously, utterly vile to some people, while being selfless and altruistic to others. In some circumstances, or by some people, actions which cause harm to others, directly or indirectly, may be considered justified, and may even be considered “good”.

The human concept of justice is subjective and is itself founded on discrimination by the prevailing power against what is judged to be unjust or “bad”. The prevailing power gets to decide what is “bad”. We tend to overlook that justice systems are always based on societies doing future harm to some, to balance or compensate for past harm to others. All cases of sanctions or punishments or penalties are for the intentional causing of harm to those adjudged to be culpable of having done harm. For societies to do harm to those “formally” judged to have harmed others, is considered to be the proper exercise of power. It is correct, ethical and even “good”. (It is unlikely that those harmed by the exercise of justice always consider such exercise to be just).

The “sanctity” of human life has been, and still is, a popular delusion. Whether by warfare, or murder, or execution, or infanticide, or abortion, or euthanasia, or indifference, or in self-defense, or by accident, the killing of other humans has always been selectively justifiable. In every society, and throughout history, particular circumstances are allowable for the harming (including killing) of other humans as the correct and proper thing to do. Every justice system exempts certain categories of humans from the usual consequences of their actions. In the context of the universe, abstractions about the human condition, individually or collectively, are of no significance. No human life or suffering or happiness has any relevance whatsoever for the elements and the forces of nature.

Modifying behaviour

Barbarous or atrocious human acts have not changed much since ancient times when humans, at least, had the excuse of being barbarians. The portfolio of all possible human behaviour was probably established by our genes when we became human some 200,000 years ago. The extremes of how well or how badly humans can treat each other has also not changed that much. Neither were atrocities first invented by ISIS or the Nazis or by Genghis Khan or even by Gilgamesh. All behaviour deemed “inhuman”, including the commitment of “atrocities”, still lies within the envelope of potential human behaviour enabled by the human genome. Aggression and violence are survival traits and part of what makes us humans. Enlightened and civilized societies (as all societies invariably label themselves) have had, and still have, their fair share of atrocities. Even the most atrocious and “inhuman” acts ever committed, still lie within the repertoire of behaviour that humans are capable of today. Technology may have changed, but the worst behaviour today is no different to the vilest behaviour 10,000 years ago. Some of the most cultured humans, living in the most sophisticated of civilizations, have also indulged in cruel and barbarous acts towards others. They still do. History is replete with philanthropist murderers and saintly torturers. Every individual has the capacity to be a saint to some and a barbarian to others, or both to anyone – even simultaneously. Each one of us does invariably behave well to some and badly to others.

There is always a potential conflict between the interests of the individual and those of the collective. The collective always has greater force to bring to bear than the individual. While societies seek to influence the behaviour of their members, the universe is equally indifferent to civilized sinners or barbarous saints. The usual tools are legislation (and all legislation is ultimately coercion by the prevailing power) and peer pressure (the herd instinct). From time to time, some societies have managed to establish high levels of compliance with their rules of membership. Smaller societies, with greater homogeneity and a narrower range of variation among members, generally have a closer correspondence between the self-interests of the individual and the collective, and achieve a higher level of uncoerced compliance. Larger societies – because individuals are not equal – exhibit greater dissent. The more diverse a society, the greater the observed dissent. Some disparate societies have succeeded in getting high compliance by using high levels of indoctrination or repression or suppression or coercion. Even the most “enlightened” system of education  – as every education system – is all about indoctrination. The smooth functioning of a society is the usual justification for whatever chosen level of coercion that may be used. The superior force available to the collective usually prevails and particular behaviour is often suppressed. However, no association of humans has yet managed, by the act of association, to change the innate range of behaviour its members are potentially capable of. That only happens by cultural evolution in the short term, and genetic evolution in the long term. Cultural evolution gives voluntary change while genetic evolution gives involuntary change. The range of genetically enabled, potential, behaviour that humans are capable of, is not affected by whether the surrounding society is monarchic or democratic or fascist. All modes of government (including democratic) rely on the ultimate threat of superior force to try and achieve compliance. All the available examples, today and throughout history, only confirm that while some particular individual behaviour can be temporarily suppressed, the range of potential human behaviour is not changed at all. But where individuals’ self-interests can be aligned with some specific behaviour, cultural change can be effected, and that behaviour can sometimes be sustained and perpetuated across many generations. The question is how a society should organize itself such that the manner in which people suppress their own self interest and constrain their own behaviour in the treatment of others, meets the “standards” established by that society. “Standards” are not written in stone or shared by all. They vary across individuals. They vary with societies, within societies and over time. Some current standards of behaviour would have been abhorrent in the past, just as some medieval behaviour is considered barbarous today. Even what is considered depraved and decadent varies over space and time and is dynamic. Some parts of the world are considered decadent by some and other parts are considered repressive and even barbarous by others. Role models of behaviour yesterday have become contemptible today, and role models of behaviour today were once considered brutish or freakish. Some standards applicable now in some societies, or some parts of the world, are anathema in others. Standards of behaviour have to be manifested, first, locally by individuals. Every society tries to “improve” the behaviour of its members, where “improvement” is defined as greater compliance with that society’s current, consensus set of values.

The human rights delusion

For the last 70+ years the “human rights” approach has tried to decree entitlements to privileges, to be universally applicable to everybody and not conditional upon the behaviour of those privileged. The UN Declaration of Human Rights is built on the proposition that all humans should be entitled to certain unconditional privileges of received behaviour, independent of their own behaviour and which must be effected by the rest of the universe. It is implied that member countries should be making these promises, and legislating for these unconditional entitlements, to everybody without qualification (citizens as well as non-citizens). In practice, no such legislation can, or does, avoid conditions for qualification, boundaries for applicability and limits of jurisdiction. The Declaration is a well-meaning, aspirational commentary on received behaviour but does not attempt to address causing behaviour. In essence, the Declaration piously declaims that “no human should be harmed by other humans” but not that “no human shall harm other humans”. As if the level of water in the sink can be controlled without controlling the tap. The Declaration does not bother to define humans, but merely assumes that the form of a human, irrespective of substance, is sufficient for qualification. It is a wish-list for individual entitlements without any balancing duties.

The Declaration as written was profoundly influenced by the atrocities in Europe leading up to and during the Second World War. It was, to a great extent, driven not only by outrage but also by the suppressed guilt in Europe for its complicity and acquiescence. An underlying driver was that so many in the rest of Europe had agreed with and supported German antisemitism. In any event, it ends up as a self-declaration of virtue by the victors. The assumption is that the declaration of a set of unconditional entitlements of privilege for all humans everywhere (received behaviour) will somehow preempt or discourage the causing behaviour by all other humans. The Declaration is no doubt well-meaning but it is silent about the reality that all individuals act as they see fit in their own perceived self-interest – and are constrained only by their own assessments of unacceptable behaviour. Even in a crowd – be it a disciplined army or a rioting mob – actions are by individuals who judge that their self-interest lies in compliance with the actions of the crowd.

Ultimately, behaviour is manifested by individuals, who can only act locally. Whether of benefit to others or causing harm to others, an individual’s actions are dominated by perceived self-interest. When an individual “mistreats” another, the “human rights” of the victim can be declared to be violated, but the compulsions leading to the perpetrating behaviour are hardly addressed. When Cain murdered Abel, Abel’s “human rights” were surely infringed but Cain’s behaviour was not preempted (and he even got to populate the world).  My “universal entitlement” to not be tortured or murdered is of little deterrence and of no value to me if the local compulsions of others lead to my torture or murder. My “universal entitlement” to freedom of speech and expression is of little note if my cantankerous neighbour dislikes what I say or my surrounding local society labels my speech as “politically incorrect”. It matters even less when my burly neighbour or my surrounding society can exert greater force (moral or physical) than I can. When faced by physical confrontation, and irrespective of who is “right”, my self-interest lies in having access to a stick rather than in waving a “bill of rights”. My supposed entitlements are of no consequence if I am a victim of malice, or an accident, or if I am just collateral damage. My entitlements to the ownership of assets are always subject to the vagaries and expressions of superior force (including state force) around me. Any declared entitlements I may have are irrelevant if the harm I experience is the consequence of malice from someone wishing me ill, or gross negligence by someone wishing me well, or by accident. My entitlement to life, liberty and security of person has no value when my time has come, or if I am infected, or if an earthquake strikes, or a burglar breaks in, or if I am hit by a drunk driver, or if society implements a judgement of harm against me. What I actually receive depends upon the immediate, local behaviour of those around me. That behaviour may well have been provoked by my own behaviour. In practice, whatever I may actually be “entitled” to, by way of privileges in my local society, depends, first and foremost, upon my own behaviour. My supposed entitlements, if any, and even if granted, are never guaranteed – by anybody. All my supposed entitlements are of no consequence if just one person next to me – for whatever reason – exercises greater force and – whether by choice or by accident – performs an act which harms me. In practice, an artificial, global declaration of my imaginary “human rights” is irrelevant to the immediate compulsions of individuals around me. When individuals treat others well, or murder or torture or otherwise mistreat others, they are driven by their own compelling, local, immediate motivations and not by any abstract contemplation of some, artificial “human rights” of others.

The UN Declaration goes down the wrong path from the very beginning. In its “Preamble” itself:

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

“Disregard and contempt for human rights” are not the root cause of “barbarous acts”. The text is a logical nonsense. It is the same mankind which shows the disregard and contempt which supposedly outrages itself. For the text to make any sense, those who showed “disregard and contempt” would need to be separated from “mankind”. The reality is that the root cause is that all “barbarous acts” are also human acts. They are acts which lie within the capability of all humans, and are performed by individuals when particular circumstances and their local, immediate compulsions so dictate. That some humans, even if very few, take enjoyment in inflicting cruelty, is also reality. Cruel, vicious and sadistic actions lie within the natural repertoire of the same “common people” who aspire to freedom of speech and belief and freedom from want and fear. In fact, many of these reprehensible actions stem from these same aspirations. The aspiration to freedom of religion drives more religious strife than any other reason. The aspiration to freedom from want drives more robbery than any other reason. Any idealized, sanctimonious concept of humanity and the “spirit of brotherhood” which ignores this reality is self-delusional. When the Declaration condemns all received barbarity as anti-human, it becomes mired in a logical contradiction when it further insists that the perpetrators still be classed as being human. It is a focus on form which ignores substance. The Declaration denies the reality that the identity of an entity is not determined by the behaviour it receives, but by the behaviour it exhibits. Human is as human does. All “barbarous acts” envisaged by the Declaration fall well within the envelope of actions that humans are capable of and can, and do, perform. They were, and still are, usually caused by the behaviour of only a minority of individuals. Nevertheless, the minimization, if not the elimination, of “barbarous acts” requires that the perceived self-interest which compels such human behaviour be addressed, not just that a “barbarous act” be labeled so, by a consensus, after the event. The “highest aspiration” of any individual is ultimately self-interest and the “highest aspiration of the common people” has no meaning when it is the same “common people” who commit the “barbarous acts”. Being able to be cruel and nasty and barbarous is an integral part of being human and to deny that is fantasy.

Right from Article 1, the UN Declaration is pious and virtuous, but utterly false.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  FALSE

Humans are not born equal, they do not live equally and they do not die equal. The reality is that all humans are born naked, with no resources, no debts, no liabilities and with only those privileges as may be granted, or liabilities that may be imposed, by the surrounding human society. “Dignity and rights” are merely labels for a class of beneficial, received behaviour, but are not something inherent within any individual. It bears repeating to break out of this mass delusion. Humans are not born equal. They are born helpless and utterly dependent upon other surrounding humans for their survival. That is hardly being “born free”. The vastly varying levels of support they receive from others, at birth and through their upbringing, further emphasizes that they are not equal. They behave differently from each other, to each other and differently through their lives. The value of a human life to its own surrounding society is a subjective judgement. It varies across societies, from one human to the next and over the life of that human. It is neither static nor a constant. The value of a human life within its own society varies with manifested behaviour and over time. Human lives are not lived equally. The value of a distinguished life may extend far beyond the boundaries of the local society and long after that life is over. The value of an undistinguished human life may be priceless to friends and relatives, but quite low in its immediate society and may approach zero to a distant society. “Years of useful life remaining” is proportional to value.

They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.  ILLOGICAL. (REASON leads to an assessment of self-interest not of “brotherhood”).

“Brotherhood” has no meaning unless a “brother” is distinguished, by his privileged status, from a non-brother. If everybody belongs to a “brotherhood” then there is no meaning to being a brother. The “spirit of brotherhood” was imaginary at the time of Cain and is imaginary now. In reality, it is because humans are endowed with reason that they have an assessment of their own self-interest. “The spirit of brotherhood”, when it exists, is a cognitive assessment, applied to a particular group and which is always, without exception, subordinated to perceived self-interest. As it was with Cain. It is unconscionable to refer to conscience as if that label represents values common to all humans. To act according to one’s conscience may be an explanation, but can never be an excuse for behaviour. Majorities rule and minorities are always suppressed (even if not necessarily oppressed), always in good conscience. That, after all, is Democracy. “Justice” and judicial sanctions and even miscarriages of justice are carried out in good conscience. Burglers burgle and fraudsters defraud with perfectly placid consciences. People oppose, in good conscience, and even with great violence and cruelty, the equally conscientious actions of others. Every riot or revolution is made up of protesters acting in good conscience. Every war has been started for some perceived common good. Every riot that is viciously put down is for the greater good. Harming a few for the greater good is always considered morally and ethically correct. Harming others (them), for the sake of our good (us), is always acceptable even if only as a last resort. Psychopaths and drunk drivers kill and maim without conscience. The worst atrocities (and what an atrocity is, is a subjective judgement) carried out by man have always been in good conscience. The collective always imposes upon individuals in good conscience (with the excuse that it is for the individual’s own good). The forcible sterilization of, and abortions among, lunatics or blacks or aborigines or the Sami, were all considered moral and ethical in their time. Long before Nazi Germany, eugenics and birth control were promoted to facilitate “the process of weeding out the unfit [and] of preventing the birth of defectives.” The practice of coercive eugenics whether by the Nazis, or by all the supposedly charitable organisations which subscribed to the theory, were always for the greater good. Religious killings, whether during the Crusades then, or by Islamic fanatics now, are always in eminently good conscience. Human sacrifice, religious inquisitions and the slaughter of infidels were the stuff of good conscience. The stairway to paradise is littered with the tortured remains of the victims of religious conscience. Warfare, violent revolutions, executions, egregious cruelty, infanticide, euthanasia of the old, medical triage of any kind, honour killings and even abortions are all carried out in good conscience.

Article 2 is little better than sanctimonious drivel:

Everyone is entitled, to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind ….

You could as well add: without any corresponding obligations, 

This has not the makings of a contract. It sanctifies entitlements and downgrades duties. A contract is untenable if one party has only benefits and the second only has liabilities. This purports to be about received behaviour and yet assumes that initiating behaviour is irrelevant. Humans will not exclude some particular behaviour from their repertoire when they perceive a compelling self-interest in exhibiting such behaviour. Human capability for violence survives because it is a critical survival trait. Human behaviour can only “improve” if the cognitive process at the individual level perceives no benefit, and a high probability of penalty, in “bad” behaviour. Behaviour within any particular society can only “improve” if privileges granted to individuals by their local society are earned by “good” behaviour and lost by “bad” behaviour. Self-interest must be made to align with “good” behaviour for such behaviour to prevail. It is inevitable that if even “bad” behaviour can attract privileges, then “good” behaviour is undermined. If “entitlements” apply even to the perpetrators of “bad” behaviour then that behaviour is effectively shielded and perpetuated. Artificial declarations of entitlement to received behaviour, which ignore the behaviour of those being so entitled, cannot address, let alone improve, behaviour. The “human rights” approach cannot guarantee these privileges, but instead places a blanket liability on the rest of the universe to deliver them. There are no duties, whatsoever, placed on the individuals (everybody) to be granted the privileges. The imbalance is unsustainable. In any legal system, unconditional entitlements to privilege for received behaviour inherently lacks the balance needed for a meaningful social contract. It does not help that every individual is an identified, unencumbered beneficiary of a supposed contract, where all the obligations are to be delivered by an unidentified, diffuse, second party (which encompasses the rest of humanity). The artificial concept of “human rights” represents, at best, an unbalanced and “bad” contract. At worst, it is no social contract at all and misleads by feigning to be a contract.

A culture of entitlement has to shift to a culture of duties

I merely observe that since 1948, the “worst” human behaviour has not, by any measure, “improved”. By one (somewhat underestimated) count, there have been at least 24 mass-atrocity/genocide like events since WW2. More people are murdered today (around 450,000 per year) than ever in the past. However one defines “bad”, the population increase means there are more “bad” people alive today than in 1948. Even though the awareness of imaginary “human rights” is high, and even though the number of people employed in the “human rights” industry has exploded, the frequency of “atrocities” and genocide-like events has, if anything, increased. (It could be argued that the continuing growth of the “human rights” industry is itself an indicator of worsening behaviour!) We cannot even claim that the worst atrocities we commit are any less “bad”. The range of human behaviour is largely unchanged. In one sense, human behaviour may actually be worse, in that, the “entitlements” approach now provides protections even for the perpetrators of the worst atrocities. It gives rise to the horrible situation in many societies that those who harm are afforded greater privileges and protections than their victims ever had. The dead, of course, have no rights though their murderers do.

(I note also, in passing, that “animal rights” are not claimed by any animal. They know better. All “animal rights” are, without exception, claimed by some humans seeking to coerce the behaviour of other humans).

The UN Declaration is about what behaviour all individuals are entitled to receive but never directly about how an individual should behave. It is about what everybody else owes an individual. It is insidious and subversive in that it justifies the idea of having entitlements without any corresponding obligations. If the question is whether the UN Declaration can prevent atrocities from happening again, the answer is clearly that it cannot. It is not the UN or the Declaration but the interconnected world of self-interests which may prevent the scale of the Nazi atrocities from ever being repeated. If the objective is to influence behaviour, the emphasis has to shift away from entitlements to privilege and focus instead on the behaviour of individuals. Behaviour must be addressed at the point of action and not at the receiving end.  That can only happen first at the individual level and only within the “local” society. It is the impotence of global, top-down platitudes versus the bottom-up alignment of self-interest with desired behaviour. Societies can – and do – use legislation to try and influence local, individual behaviour. However, pious assumptions of “universal laws” which are not grounded at the local level, are of little practical help and add little value. The fundamental and guiding principle needs to be that all individuals are responsible and accountable for their own behaviour. Far too often the entitlements approach leads to explanations of behaviour being used to excuse that behaviour. Psycho-babble explanations of “bad” behaviour are used as an excuse. Any entitlements to privilege, in any society, can only be contingent upon behaviour. Where is the UN Declaration on Human Duties?

The artificial “human rights” concept and its imaginary social contract is unbalanced and untenable. If there is no cost to the acquisition of human rights, then they can have no great value. I come to the conclusion that human behaviour is surely capable of being influenced by a social contract. But it needs to be a real social contract where benefits for the individual are balanced by duties and obligations. Entitlements without duties are no social contract and ultimately, anti-social. It is only by aligning desired behaviour with perceptions of self-interest (and not just the interests of others), that we will see a change in the desired direction.

A human is defined by behaviour exhibited, not by behaviour received. And the place to begin is by local, not global, declarations of the behaviour to be exhibited to qualify for the privileges to be accorded to humans. The human condition will improve only when “bad” behaviour is perceived as being against self-interest, not just by labeling such behaviour as a sin against imaginary “human rights”.

“Ask not what behaviour others owe you, but what behaviour you owe to others”


 

 

 

Fair’s fair and just is right, but justice systems are to do harm to a select few

June 20, 2020

This started out as an explanation of the difference in usage between just and fair, but has ended up as a journey from fair to just to justness to justice and thence to justice systems.

Just and fair are often conflated. But justness and fairness are different things and justice is something else again. The qualities of justness and fairness give rise to being just and fair respectively, but the corresponding action deriving from the quality of justice is doing justice.

  • fair/unfair, from fairness/unfairness,
  • just/unjust, from justness/injustice1,
  • justice/injustice2

are all quite distinct and different. The antonym for justness I take to be injustice1, which is not quite the same thing as the opposite of justice (injustice2).

What both fair and just have in common is that they cannot exist except as reactions to the prior conceptions of unjust and unfair. These must come first. .Just and fair both then represent, but separately, states of balance in human interactions. The abstract quality of being fair is fairness and that of being just is justness. Justice is, however, something else and not necessarily fair or just. But justice too follows from a conception of injustice2 which must come first.

A justice system is something else again. 


A just universe?

In the physical universe, the concepts of just and fair are undefined and have no meaning. The natural laws are neither fair nor just; they merely are. It is human cognition together with human interactions which give rise to the need for these concepts to exist. In the physical world, the closest analogy to the concepts of just and fair are equilibrium and balance. The universe came into being, (whether by accident or by design), following an initiating impulse which created the Great Imbalance. All events since then are in pursuit of balance; of seeking a state of equilibrium. All change is a result of some imbalance. Once equilibrium is achieved nothing happens. Nothing can happen. All of physics and chemistry and biology are about changes brought about by non-equilibrium states followed by events which are always in the pursuit of balance. We derive the natural laws from observations of change around us. They are all about events caused by imbalances, which seek to reduce the causing imbalance. Without imbalance there would be no motion, no vibration, no radiation and no change of any kind. They all cease with equilibrium. Even the very existence of matter is due to disturbances (imbalances) in fields. All existence is a chain of succeeding imbalances, a transience. All life is transient. Change pursuant to one imbalance leads to further imbalances, which lead to further changes, and so on ad infinitum.  There is no certainty that the chain of changes will, or must, converge. Attaining a final, universal equilibrium may not happen very quickly (and possibly may never happen). Whether time emerges from change, or time causes change, the flow of time is itself a manifestation of some, as yet unknown, imbalance. The universe – while it exists – is in a “permanently” transient state. All science is about understanding the state of the universe and its patterns of change, while human engineering and technology are about harnessing the transients as the natural forces pursue equilibrium. Change is impossible without imbalance. If, and when, all the imbalances are removed, even atoms will cease to vibrate and the universe will come to an end. All would be in equilibrium; motionless; unchanging; timeless. It would be the ultimate stasis.

The universe just is, but just it is not.

Fair/Fairness

Fair is meaningless without a conception of unfair. Any definition of fair must first go through defining what it is not. Fairness is about a qualitative balance assessed between positions along the benefit – harm value scale, as perceived by an individual. Fairness is about the balance and not about the level of harm or the position along the value scale. Strict equivalence is not a requirement. However while fair describes a balance anywhere along the scale, unfair is always accompanied by a greater level of perceived harm on one side of the imbalance.

It is nearly always about people. It is always about balance though a comparison with a standard or norm may be implied. It is thought that the concept of fairness may even be hard-wired into our brains. (Fairness and equality are sometimes interchanged but they are also quite different things and equal is not necessarily just or fair). For an individual, the assessment of fairness can often seem to emanate from “gut” emotions. It is, however, a composite cognitive assessment; an application of reason, even if sometimes made to some extent in the sub-conscious. The assessment is along a harm-benefit value scale which is itself a composite scale. It is subjective and specific to every individual. Fairness includes assessments for, among many other values, equity, wealth, proportion, beauty, worth, privilege, ability, performance, reward and penalty. (Actions causing harm such as discrimination, cheating, favoritism and the like are usually unfair, except when they are overridden by political correctness). The assessed balance may apply 

  • to transactions (fair deal, wages, value, share, offer, ..), or
  • to the states of individuals or groups of individuals (unfair wealth, misery, poverty, sickness, ..), or
  • to their actions (fair blow, play, throw, catch, ….) , or
  • to the behaviour they receive or don’t receive (fair treatment, chance, review, hearing, assessment, result, ….).

(There are other meanings of fair – a market fair, fair weather, fair skin, etc. – but these are not considered here). Strict equivalence is not a requirement for a balance to be considered fair. Sometimes, but rarely, the comparison may be relative to some expected standard rather than between people.

What is fair then depends upon each individual’s own set of values. Different values or sets of values give differing assessments of fairness. Giving different weights to different values would change the assessment of fairness. What appears fair to me today may not seem fair to a different observer or even to me at a different time. The ability to assess fairness is clearly a function of cognition. Sometimes we do extend the quality of fairness in our descriptions of the animal world. But in the animal world, it seems that only some of the primates (chimpanzees for example) may have some vague notion of the concept of fairness.  Whenever there is a collective human assessment of what is fair, it is built up from developing some form of consensus from the various individual assessments of fairness. But the assessments by individuals must come first. 

Fairness, at its core, emanates from individual cognition and an individual’s set of values and the application of those values to a comparison and an assessment of balance. Unfair may contribute to wrongness but is not necessarily improper or illegal or immoral.

Just/Justness

Just and justness, on the other hand, only emerge in a societal context. They too are defined through their antonyms. They always involve a judgement by, or with reference to, some authority. A judgement necessarily requires speaking from authority, but it may be explicit or implicit. While an individual can have an assessment of fairness without necessarily referring to a society, an individual’s perception of unjust needs reference to a surrounding society. The value scale is now of a formal wrongness where some societal authority defines the just-unjust value scale which, in turn is, a composite of various aspects of wrongness. The scale is open at the unjust end but cannot exceed beyond just. (A reference to more just is not an excess of justness but actually about less unjust).

The authority may be explicit, emanating from a prevailing power in a society (setting laws, rules, regulations, instructions, ..), or implicit, when the judgement is based on moral or religious or societal authority (correctness, morality, conscience, convention, ..). Correct, or proper, or moral, or legal, or deserved are all judgements made from a position of authority. Justness is still about balance, but a balance against a measure of wrongness based on societal rules originating from some authority (governments, religions, gods,  …). It also begins by first having a concept of what what just is not. To be assessed as unjust must always include this element of formal wrongness. Wrongness is a composite judgement which includes one or more of being incorrect, improper, unfair, illegal, immoral or undeserved. These assessments are not compared, in the first instance, between humans but against societal norms as decreed by authority. The weight given to different aspects of wrongness determines the position on the just-unjust scale. At least one component of wrongness is necessary but may not be sufficient for being unjust. Thus (unfair + deserved) may be just while (fair + illegal) may be unjust. It is not implausible, for example, that an action which is improper, incorrect, immoral and unfair, but which is compliant with law, escapes being labeled as unjustUnfair is silent about wrongness and becomes unjust only if it is also adjudged to be sufficiently negative on the wrongness scale. Unjust is not necessarily harmful or unfair.

It is doubtful if any other species we know of makes the leap from fair to just. I make the distinction between justness and fairness primarily by differentiating between the individual and the collective (society) and on the different value scales in play. Fairness is a judgement of balance while justness is a measure of formal wrongness. I can judge what is fair, but some authority within society must be called upon to determine what is just.

Fair = balanced along the harm-benefit value scale as perceived by an individual’s set of values

Just = not negative along the just-unjust, wrongness scale as determined by some societal authority

Justice/Injustice

The primary meaning of the word justice as a noun is: “the achieving or maintenance of what is just”. However the word also has other meanings such as a judge, the maintenance of law, the quality of being just (justness), correctness or a justice system. I take only the primary meaning here: “the achieving or maintenance of what is just”. (I have more to say about justice systems later).

The philosophical concept of justice arises only because injustice is first perceived to exist as an imbalance in human relations within a society.  A society without any perception of injustice could not, from nothingness, dream up a concept of justice. Just as a creature without vision could not dream up the concept of red. Human societies pride themselves on having a sense of justice and on their institutionalized systems of justice. Most would claim the objective of striving for a just world. But in a completely just world the concept of justice vanishes, just as in a universe at equilibrium, change – and therefore the universe – vanish. Justice cannot exist without injustice first being perceived as an imbalance within a society. A paradox lies in that while the pursuit of justice is a cherished part of the human identity, in a perfectly just world, the concept of justice could not emerge. It follows that a perfectly just world could only contain a humanity which had no conception of injustice.

The Justinian definition that justice is “the constant and perpetual will to render to each his due” is 1,500 years old, but is still valid and as good a theoretical description of justice (as the maintenance of what is just), as any. “To each his due” requires a judgement from an authority competent to decide what is due. “To each” also implies everybody. Theoretically, justice should then be the pursuit of a state of justness where everybody gets their due – good, bad or indifferent. As a synonym for justness, justice ought to be as much about due reward as it is about due penalty. In practice, however, justice is predominantly about what is due for wrongness rather than what may be due for rightness. In common usage, justice is about the righting of undue wrongs, and very seldom about rendering of due rewards. When reward does engage justice, it is more often as an injustice consequent to a reward denied. It is sometimes seen as a property of the law. But that doesn’t really work since not everything compliant with law is necessarily just. Law specifies the wrongness scale but is not, actually, about the quality of wrongness. Whereas justness should be equally about due punishment and due reward, justice is predominantly about what is due for that wrongness which is adjudged sufficiently wrong to be labeled unjust.

In current practice, justice is no longer about what is due to everyone and is restricted to be what is due to every wrongdoer. Justice is now just a sub-set of justness. Justinian’s definition has effectively been modified.

justice = “the constant and perpetual will to render to each wrongdoer his due”

Justice Systems

Justice systems are always societal constructs made or maintained by the prevailing power. They are made up of institutions and procedures in a society, established by law, and concerned solely with the enforcement of law. Whether it is a system established by a sporting club (discipline committee), or a company (grievance process) or the full-blown paraphernalia of a state (Justice System), it does not deal, except as a corollary, with fairness or justness or even justice. It is only concerned with a portion of that fraction of unjust or injustice which is illegal. To the extent that law is imperfect and not all laws are just or fair, it also deals with just or fair acts which happen to be illegal. Justice and The Law are shrouded in a halo of sanctity which is a mirage. There is nothing absolute or fundamental or divine about the justice pursued by justice systems.  It emerges in the context of a society and varies with time, society and the prevailing power. A justice system is not so much about attaining a state of justness as it is about being seen to be addressing some of those who have done harm and have created societal imbalances. It is a highly pragmatic, societal construct for the visible disbursement of future harm to a select few formally adjudged to have done something illegal which has caused harm.

One could hope that a justice system would promote a general state of justness in society but that would be entirely delusional. One might think, more practically, that a justice system existed to promote a Justinian form of justice in a society, where everybody got their due, but even that would be hopelessly naive. The UK Ministry of Justice “definition” reads like a corporate mission statement written by a PR hack: “The purpose of the Criminal Justice System… is to deliver justice for all, by convicting and punishing the guilty and helping them to stop offending, while protecting the innocent”. 

Consider first how limited the scope of application of any justice system actually is.

  • Start with all received behaviour and actions where either harm or benefit is caused and something “is due”, (All events = N)
  • Then take those unjust instances where received behaviour has caused harm and can be labeled wrong. It is only a guesstimate but this is certainly less than 50% of all events and more than 10%. I assume the 80/20 rule. (Wrong, harmful events = 0.2N)
  • Only a portion of these wrong events will be non-compliant with established laws, Again say 20%. (Wrong, harmful, illegal events = W = 0.04N)
  • Only a portion of these illegal events will attract the formal attention of the justice system. The harm done must usually be above some threshold to trigger societal interest. No harm, no foul is one boundary condition often applied. Globally, and considering all forms of illegality, one estimate is that less than 20% are reported to justice systems. (Events entering the justice system = 0.2W = 0.008N)
  • The Crime Detection Rate is the number of cases where someone is identified as a suspect in a reported crime. This varies from about 90% for death by road accident, to 80% for murder, and down to 15% for burglary and 10% for fraud or sexual offenses. Say 30%. (Suspect detected = 0.06W = 0.0024N).
  • Less than half of those suspected proceed to formal prosecution. (Cases prosecuted = 0.03W = 0.0012N)
  • A majority of prosecutions do result in convictions. Conviction rates in justice systems vary from a low of about 50% in some African and Asian countries to a high of about 99.9% (Japan, Russia). In Europe and the US they are around 70 – 80%. (Which also suggests that the presumption of innocence has been largely negated once a formal prosecution occurs). Say 70%. (Number receiving their due = 0.021W = 0.00084N)

These are just guesstimates but it is apparent that no justice system can address and “render their due” to more than about 2% of all illegal events (or 0.1% of all events which create a “due”). It would seem that the societal exercise of justice is satisfied by addressing just this tiny fraction of events that could be addressed. That is not to say that justice systems don’t serve a critical purpose for all societies. But the primary purpose cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be to achieve a state of justness for all, or even justice for all, in the society concerned.

The bottom line is that justice systems decree and implement harm for those convicted. In fact it is the only recourse available to justice systems. The past cannot be changed and the only tool available is future harm. This is not restricted to criminal justice. Even in civil justice suits when perceived harm is brought to the courts, the recourse of the justice system to redressing balance (if imbalance is adjudged to exist and be illegal), is to decree future harm for the “wrongdoer”.

What, then, is actually achieved by justice systems?

In practice, every justice system is concerned only with a tiny fraction of all illegalities. It

  • decrees and implements harm to a select few,
  • is a PR exercise to demonstrate that the prevailing power has matters under control,
  • shows, as a deterrent, that some of the most egregious wrongdoers can be detected and “rendered their due”.

The reality is that every justice system (including its prevailing laws and institutions) is built on the core assumption that societies, for the smooth functioning of that society, must be seen to be pursuing justice. What justice or justness is actually achieved in the society at large is entirely incidental.

Doing harm to others is “bad”, except when it is just or decreed by a justice system.


Related: Laws are made to be broken

Without laws there are no law breakers. It is not only that law breakers are created by human laws, human laws need law breakers. Laws are established in the first place to prevent some human behaviors which society judges to be undesirable. But if everyone follows a law then that law is unnecessary, and if no one follows that law it is worthless. One could well say that law breakers perform a fundamental and necessary service for society. They keep laws alive. Without law breakers, there would be no need for laws or legislators or lawyers.


 

Humans are not equal

April 25, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic brings the delusion of human equality into stark relief.

There is a myth that institutions, from the UN to countries and NGO’s, like to propagate. This is the fantasy that humans are born equal and that their lives are of equal value. All across the world we now see that the infection carriers are mainly younger and asymptomatic. The dead are mainly among the old and the weak. Everyone is now seeking “herd immunity”, but a herd is always on the move. Its security lies in leaving behind and sacrificing the old and the infirm to satisfy the predators. The coronavirus is predatory. It is the younger and stronger who can get the economies to start up again. And the old and the infirm are being left behind.

It has happened in Spain and Italy and the UK as well but I take Sweden as an example where the myth that human lives have equal value is particularly strong. It has become exceedingly clear that the lives of those who may place a greater burden on the nationalised health services are worth less than of those who won’t. Almost 90% of all deaths attributed to the coronavirus in Sweden, (actually 87% currently), are of those over 70 years of age. Many of these were because the infection entered the care homes where the elderly were trapped, mainly through asymptomatic care workers. Unions have then blocked care workers from providing care in some infected care homes. Government institutions have even formally promoted the downgrading of the value of the lives of the elderly. The Swedish Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has explicitly lowered the priority to be given to those with a lower “expected remaining life”. It is not just coincidence that some Stockholm hospitals have rejected some of the elderly from available intensive care places, in case younger patients with a greater chance of survival might have need of them. (Expressen 23rd April)

There is nothing right or wrong with the reality that humans are not equal. Far better to openly accept the reality than hide behind a delusion.


Humans are not born equal, nor do they live equally and they do not die equal.

Humans are born genetically unique. In one estimate by the FBI for identifications in court, the chance of a DNA profile being matched by another person is much less than 1 in 260 billion. All the humans who have ever lived over 200,000 years as “anatomically modern humans” number about 110 billion. No two have ever been genetically alike or have had identical DNA profiles.

Humans are not born “equal” in their genes. The capability envelope – physical, mental and behavioural – for any individual is already set at birth (actually soon after conception). Nurture then determines what an individual can actually achieve within the capability envelope. But, no amount of nurture (nourishment, upbringing, training, learning or experience) can enable an individual to break out of the predetermined envelope of capability. Nurture may have enabled me to run faster than I can, but no amount of nurture would have made it possible for me to run as fast as Usain Bolt.

Humans are not equal either in the nurture they receive. The reality is that all humans are born naked, with no resources, no debts, no liabilities and with only those privileges as may be granted, or liabilities that may be imposed, by the surrounding human society. They are born utterly dependent upon surrounding humans for their survival. Nourishment and upbringing are determined by the far from equal capabilities of parents. Education and learning and experience vary according to the means of the parents and the surrounding society. The vastly varying levels of support they receive from others, at birth and through their upbringing, further emphasizes that they are not equal. They differ in nourishment, upbringing, training, learning and experience. They differ in what they contribute to, or receive from, their surroundings.

Humans do not behave equally. From birth and through their lifetimes, they differ in their actions and behaviour and interactions with others. They differ in the people they interact with. They behave differently from each other, to each other and differently through their lives.

Human lives are not lived equally. The value any creature places on its own life is entirely subjective and not something that can be estimated by others. Presumably this value is at the maximum possible for the individual concerned. The value of any human life within its own society varies with manifested behaviour and over time. The value to its own surrounding society is also a subjective judgement. However, it varies across societies, from one human to the next and over the life of that human. It is neither static nor a constant. The value of an undistinguished human life may be priceless to friends and relatives, but quite low in its immediate society and may approach zero to a distant society. The value of a distinguished life may extend far beyond the boundaries of the local society and long after that life is over. 

And when a human, no matter how distinguished or productive earlier, is committed for life to a care home or a hospice, the reality is that the current value of that human life, to that society, has dwindled to not very much.

Humans are not born equal, nor do they live equally and they do not die equal. 

There is nothing right or wrong with that. It just is. Far better to openly accept the reality than hide behind a delusion.


 

Knowing what you don’t know: Ambushed by the coronavirus

April 2, 2020

Ambushed by the coronavirus, 15.5 billion km ago.

10 year old: So the earth moves around the sun and we move with it?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And in one hour we have moved 107,000 km along with the earth?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And the sun moves around the centre of the galaxy?

Dad: Yes, the sun and the entire solar system orbit the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy.

10 year old: And in one hour the sun has moved 828,000 km?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: So in one hour I have travelled 935,000 km around the galaxy?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And does the galaxy move?

Dad: Yes, It is thought that the galaxy moves 2,160,000 km relative to other galaxies in an hour.

10 year old: So where did the coronavirus come from?

Dad: We don’t know.

10 year old: And it came in November last year?

Dad: Yes.

10 year old: And we have travelled 15.5 billion km since last November?

Dad: Aaaah, Yes. About that.

10 year old: So we could have been ambushed by coronaviruses lying in wait for us there?

Dad: No.

10 year old: But you don’t know where it comes from.

Dad: We don’t know where it came from, but we know it didn’t come from space.

10 year old: So you do know what you don’t know.



									

Coronavirus ethics: When healthy and young has priority over sick and old

March 29, 2020

In the last few days, the prospect of limited intensive care places and too many patients has become more real. Professors of philosophy have been sought after for their views. In Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) has produced new guidelines so that doctors and nurses forced to make life and death choices have support for their decisions. The guiding principle is stated to be the “expected remaining lifetime” without consideration of “social standing, disabilities or actual age”. Of course this is inherently contradictory since expected remaining lifetime and actual age cannot be divorced. In their new guidelines the Board skates over this contradiction by claiming that it is “biological age” that is being considered and not “actual age”.

The guidelines define priorities for intensive care (my translation):

Priority 1: Patients who have a serious illness but are expected to survive longer than 12 months. If it becomes necessary to prioritize within this group, it must not be done based on the patient’s social situation / position,  any disabilities or the person’s actual age. It may, however, be based on what is called biological age. The latter means that the expected life expectancy is calculated using a number of factors. Those who are younger are then given priority over the older if the health status of both is otherwise equal. But conversely, a patient who is older but otherwise in good health should be given priority over a younger person who, due to illness or otherwise, is expected to live shorter.

Priority 2: Patients with one or more severe systemic disorders with significant functional limitation. These include, for example, insufficiently controlled diabetes, COPD, morbid obesity (BMI ≥40), active hepatitis, alcohol abuse, pacemaker addiction and a heart attack or stroke older than three months. This group also includes those who have an expected survival of 6-12 months.

Priority 3: Patients with an expected low probability of survival. These may be cases where the intensive care unit is normally only used to enable a renewed assessment and consultation with related persons.

Swedish television reports:

SvT:

If the corona crisis worsens, healthcare will be forced to prioritize – and patients who have had good prospects of coping may be rejected. “It can be so in an extreme situation”, says Lars Sandman, Professor of health ethics.

Health care always needs to be prioritized. But in a situation where the number of corona-infected who need intensive care is increasing dramatically, this can result in many difficult decisions. Therefore, new guidelines for priorities in health care have been developed on behalf of the National Board of Health and Welfare. “Suppose we get completely full departments with many very seriously ill people who have marginal conditions to come back to life after intensive care and then other more basically healthy people knock at the door. Then it can be a very difficult decision”, says Andreas Hvarfner, chief physician in anesthesia and intensive care at Karolinska University Hospital in Solna.

Will this mean that infected elderly patients who have severe diabetes, lung disease, pacemakers and are overweight are at risk of not receiving intensive care? “Of course, that may eventually be so” says Andreas Hvarfner.

Lars Sandman, professor of health ethics at Linköping University, has been involved in developing the new guidelines. “When faced with these difficult decisions, it is important that there is clear support and that one can lean back on ethical principles that in this case are legal and instituted by Parliament in 1997. We have tried to clarify how they should be interpreted” , he said.

If there is now a storm that many believe, will people prioritize between people who may have roughly the same conditions? “It can be so in an extreme situation. Then we have stated in the guidelines that you can choose the one that has the longest remaining life expectancy . We want to avoid getting into that situation and therefore we are working hard to get more intensive care places”. This means that young people do come ahead of the elderly if they have similar conditions to survive. According to Lars Sandman, the problem is that there are no alternatives. “You can of course imagine a queuing situation, but then you run the risk that a patient who may have less chance of survival gets the place and that two patients instead of one die in the end”.

Consider the case of two sick patients and only one intensive care place. Younger and healthier will always have a higher expected remaining life and have a higher priority. If both have the same chance of survival, the younger will always get priority. For an older person to get priority by the remaining lifetime criterion, the chance of survival will have to be much higher than for the younger person. The stipulation that social standing have no impact means that a younger, healthier, anti-social, scrounger will get a higher priority than a worthy, productive, sicker, older person.

Of course, this is oversimplified. In reality the chances of survival with intensive care have to be first judged against chances of survival without. It is unlikely that chances of survival without intensive care could both be zero in two cases which had widely different chances with intensive care.

Take:  expected remaining life = (life expectancy – actual age) x chance of survival

Let us assume a life expectancy of 90 years and a base case of a very sick 20 year old with only a 10% chance of survival. Expected remaining life would then be 10% of life remaining giving 7 years. An older person would have priority if their chance of survival was sufficient to give an expected life remaining of greater than 7 years. To get priority a 50 year old would need a chance of survival of 17.5%, a 70 year old would need 35% and and an 80 year old would need a 70% chance of survival. Anybody over 83 would never get priority – even if they had a 99% chance of survival.

Of course, it is age discrimination disguised with words (biological age) to ostensibly comply with the laws on discrimination. But the Board really has no choice.

The issue I have is not really with the Board but with the delusion that the value of humans is not connected to their social behaviour and the myth that humans are equal.


 

If a virus is not alive, how does it die?

March 24, 2020

You can’t strictly kill a virus since it is not alive.

Outside living cells, some viruses remain potentially active for thousands of years. A virus recovered from permafrost was able to infect an amoeba. Influenza and corona viruses are thought to stay active for a few hours or days. But the smallpox virus can remain active for years

These days there are many reports about how long the coronavirus remains “alive” or “viable” or “active” on surfaces.  For example this is an abstract of a new paper (yet to be published):

Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1

Abstract
HCoV-19 (SARS-2) has caused >88,000 reported illnesses with a current case-fatality ratio of ~2%. Here, we investigate the stability of viable HCoV-19 on surfaces and in aerosols in comparison with SARS35 CoV-1. Overall, stability is very similar between HCoV-19 and SARS-CoV-1. We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel. HCoV-19 and SARS-CoV-1 exhibited similar half-lives in aerosols, with median estimates around 2.7 hours. Both viruses show relatively long viability on stainless steel and polypropylene compared to copper or cardboard: the median half-life estimate for HCoV-19 is around 13 hours on steel and around 16 hours on polypropylene. Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for multiple hours and on surfaces up to days.

But then I also read that viruses are not “alive”. They are just a bunch of chemicals, non-bacterial pathogens,  which, by unknown mechanisms, just happen to have

  1. long molecules of DNA or RNA that encode the structure of the proteins by which the virus acts;
  2. a protein coat, the capsid, which surrounds and protects the genetic material; and
  3. in some cases an outside envelope of lipids

Scientific American:

For about 100 years, the scientific community has repeatedly changed its collective mind over what viruses are. First seen as poisons, then as life-forms, then biological chemicals, viruses today are thought of as being in a gray area between living and nonliving: they cannot replicate on their own but can do so in truly living cells and can also affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly. The categorization of viruses as nonliving during much of the modern era of biological science has had an unintended consequence: it has led most researchers to ignore viruses in the study of evolution. Finally, however, scientists are beginning to appreciate viruses as fundamental players in the history of life. …..

What exactly defines “life?” A precise scientific definition of life is an elusive thing, but most observers would agree that life includes certain qualities in addition to an ability to replicate. For example, a living entity is in a state bounded by birth and death. Living organisms also are thought to require a degree of biochemical autonomy, carrying on the metabolic activities that produce the molecules and energy needed to sustain the organism. This level of autonomy is essential to most definitions.

Viruses, however, parasitize essentially all biomolecular aspects of life. That is, they depend on the host cell for the raw materials and energy necessary for nucleic acid synthesis, protein synthesis, processing and transport, and all other biochemical activities that allow the virus to multiply and spread. One might then conclude that even though these processes come under viral direction, viruses are simply nonliving parasites of living metabolic systems. But a spectrum may exist between what is certainly alive and what is not.

A rock is not alive. A metabolically active sack, devoid of genetic material and the potential for propagation, is also not alive. A bacterium, though, is alive. Although it is a single cell, it can generate energy and the molecules needed to sustain itself, and it can reproduce. But what about a seed? A seed might not be considered alive. Yet it has a potential for life, and it may be destroyed. In this regard, viruses resemble seeds more than they do live cells. They have a certain potential, which can be snuffed out, but they do not attain the more autonomous state of life. Another way to think about life is as an emergent property of a collection of certain nonliving things. Both life and consciousness are examples of emergent complex systems. They each require a critical level of complexity or interaction to achieve their respective states. A neuron by itself, or even in a network of nerves, is not conscious—whole brain complexity is needed. Yet even an intact human brain can be biologically alive but incapable of consciousness, or “brain-dead.” Similarly, neither cellular nor viral individual genes or proteins are by themselves alive. The enucleated cell is akin to the state of being braindead, in that it lacks a full critical complexity. A virus, too, fails to reach a critical complexity. So life itself is an emergent, complex state, but it is made from the same fundamental, physical building blocks that constitute a virus. Approached from this perspective, viruses, though not fully alive, may be thought of as being more than inert matter: they verge on life.

But how then do they die? Clearly there has to be a chemical change. Is it just a case of going from active to inactive as chemistry changes?

And that begs the question as to what that chemical change might be.


 


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