Quotes from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Saturday, 29 October 2011

“A ra­tio­nal an­ar­chist be­lieves that con­cepts such as ‘state’ and ‘so­ci­ety’ and ‘gov­ern­ment’ have no ex­is­tence save as phys­i­cally ex­em­pli­fied in the acts of self-re­spon­si­ble in­di­vid­u­als. He be­lieves that it is im­pos­si­ble to shift blame, share blame, dis­trib­ute blame… as blame, guilt, re­spon­si­bil­ity are mat­ters tak­ing place in­side hu­man be­ings singly and nowhere else. But be­ing ra­tio­nal, he knows that not all in­di­vid­u­als hold his eval­u­a­tions, so he tries to live per­fectly in an im­per­fect world…aware that his ef­fort will be less than per­fect yet undis­mayed by self-knowl­edge of self-fail­ure.”


“My point is that one per­son is re­spon­si­ble. Always. […] In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each re­spon­si­ble for his own acts.”

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pp 84 – 85

I’m struck at how very ex­is­ten­tial­ist that quote is. Just as I’m struck at how very apro­pos the fol­low­ing quote is to the #oc­cupy move­ment.

“A man­aged democ­racy is a won­der­ful thing […] for the managers…and its great­est strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is de­fined as ‘re­spon­si­ble’ and the man­agers de­fine what is ‘ir­re­spon­si­ble.’”

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pg 256

Ignorance & Agnosticism

Sunday, 3 April 2011

There isn’t a lot of dif­fer­ence be­tween the root mean­ings of ig­no­rant and ag­nos­tic; but there is a vast dif­fer­ence in their mod­ern con­no­ta­tions. Ignorance is es­sen­tially the re­sult of hold­ing a point of view due to lack of facts or a rea­son­able thought process. For the most part, it is a pas­sive sit­u­a­tion. We are, by na­ture, ig­no­rant. At some point in our de­vel­op­ment as peo­ple, we reach a place where we have a choice to re­main ig­no­rant or to ed­u­cate our­selves on a given topic. Since ed­u­ca­tion is al­ways a dif­fi­cult task, it’s of­ten eas­ier to re­main ig­no­rant, and mask that ig­no­rance by ac­cept­ing what­ever po­si­tion ap­peals most uniquely to our­selves and then sound­ing au­thor­i­ta­tive about it.

Agnosticism is a bit of a dif­fer­ent beast. I can see two ways of defin­ing ag­nos­ti­cism, but they both have the same re­sult. The first an­gle is the re­sult of hav­ing plenty of facts about a cer­tain topic, but when ap­ply­ing rea­son to those facts, there is in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to meet the stan­dards of rea­son set by the mind try­ing to make that judg­ment call. The re­sult is ab­sten­tion from mak­ing a de­ci­sion. The sec­ond an­gle is a bit broader in its ap­pli­ca­tion and ef­fects. It prob­a­bly shouldn’t even be called ag­nos­ti­cism, but I can’t think of an­other word that fits. It is a gen­eral prin­ci­ple of which any fact-gath­er­ing and sub­se­quent de­ci­sion is a speci­fic case.

What I’m try­ing to say is that once some­one has cho­sen to ed­u­cate them­selves, and if they do so ag­nos­ti­cally (gath­er­ing facts but mak­ing no judg­ment), at some point it is pos­si­ble to be ag­nos­tic about any topic on which you are ig­no­rant. Once you’ve come to the con­clu­sion that you’re ag­nos­tic about a few things, you can start to as­sume ag­nos­ti­cism about any topic in­stead of ig­no­rance.

Here’s a speci­fic case:

I went to the shoot­ing range with some cowork­ers to­day. I hadn’t used a firearm in over 20 years, and through­out my life those clos­est to me have had ig­no­rant views re­gard­ing firearms. Guns are bad, full stop. I could have cho­sen to ac­cept that for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, but my knowl­edge didn’t meet the stan­dard for me to make that de­ci­sion. So, I re­mained ag­nos­tic about guns. I needed more in­for­ma­tion, so I went to the shoot­ing range with my cowork­ers and learned more. I’m still ag­nos­tic right now, or rather, I still haven’t fully thought through my feel­ings on the mat­ter.

By rec­og­niz­ing my ig­no­rance, I was able to turn it into ag­nos­ti­cism. I will make no judg­ment un­til I feel that I know enough to do so.

Agnosticism is ba­si­cally the stance of open-mind­ed­ness. It is ca­pa­ble of see­ing both sides and none, is sym­pa­thetic, em­pa­thetic and the in­her­ently most re­spect­ful po­si­tion to take on a topic where one is not an ex­pert. It is hard to be an ag­nos­tic though; es­pe­cially in re­gards to re­li­gion. You get caught be­tween the mys­tics (like my­self and other be­liev­ers) and the skep­tics. So it goes for re­li­gion, and so it goes for any other topic.

Fidelity to your own stan­dard of truth is hard to hold on to when you’re a big hair­less mon­key that like to con­vince and be con­vinced with all the other hair­less mon­keys in your world.

Obama Lexicon

Friday, 8 January 2010

I’ve no­ticed that Obama’s stock turns of phrase ap­pear more and more of­ten on blogs and com­ing from state­ments from other folks all over the place. To doc­u­ment, these are:

  • Let’s be clear
  • Make no mis­take

I don’t be­lieve this is con­fir­ma­tion bias. They’re used in the same rhetor­i­cal con­texts, for the most part. It’s a sub­con­scious sign that the per­son speak­ing or writ­ing has a deep re­spect for (and very likely looks up to) the President.

Personally, I like it when he talks about teach­able mo­ments, when he’s deal­ing with thorny but morally im­por­tant is­sues. I don’t know that I al­ways agree with what he de­fines as a teach­able mo­ment, but I cer­tainly ap­pre­ci­ate the sen­ti­ment that there are times when it is im­por­tant to learn a lesson, and to let the mo­ment teach that lesson to you. Your re­ac­tion to that mo­ment pro­vides some­thing you can teach your­self, and then oth­ers. It’s a good mech­a­nism for thought­ful liv­ing.