Sunday, January 31, 2021

Seeing Evil

Seeing evil is a dangerous thing. If you see evil in something, a thing or phenomenon, you might transfer that sense to seeing evil in someone, a person. If you do that, and you're wrong, you might beat and break down someone who is innocent. So those who want to manage the world may not want you to see evil.

But evil is real. Most of us have seen it, and if we're honest, we recognize that it's real. The truth is that humans are not our worst enemies, but there is an enemy.

Ephesians 6:

12 For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world's rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Perhaps "the world's rulers of the darkness of this age" could be humans. It could be that some people in power more or less knowingly choose darkness, and are disproportionately able to keep the world in bondage. Generally, evil comes from the spiritual world. The evil that we see on earth from human to human generally descends from supernatural lies and dark spirits. Humans experience generational trauma and are constrained to a large extent by their genes and whatever ideas they have available to them from their culture. Many people who appear evil have less choice in who they are than we may like to think. They may be conduits of evil, but only as those in bondage to it themselves. But like in any scene, everything comes from consciousness. Someone does consciously choose the world to be broken and perverse.

If sometimes humans really are evil, should we use violence against them? We assume that such evil people can't be redeemed by showing them the truth. Seeing evil is dangerous because the evil that appears so clearly before us might turn out to not be the real evil, and in fighting what we think is evil, we end up doing evil ourselves, the work of the spirits who pit humans against each other. Seeing evil does not necessarily require us to act violently against it. And violence itself is evil. Those who are against evil should be against violence, even the violence necessary to fight evil. (The lesser of two evils is always evil, by definition.) Your desire to fight evil might be your love of violence, of evil, mixed with your love of what is good.

(Similar to violence are coercion and manipulation, which are also evil in themselves.)


One way that helps to keep from the danger of seeing evil is to see evil, but not fear it.

The chief evil is to fail to fully connect with God. A world with no other evils, but without God, might be the worst evil for being so subtle. Perhaps we are all evil -- we are to whatever extent we choose to be enemies of God.

Whatever you see, whatever you point out or hold your attention on, including danger and evil, you see because God exists. Evil really exists, but it is dangerous to forget the bigger picture, of what is good.

Friends and Enemies

There are different meanings to "enemy". Someone can be opposed to your interests or well-being. They can be on the opposite side of the war between human faction and human faction, or between God and his enemies. Certainly that's a form of enmity. A person can be bad for you and partly intend the harm they cause. That's also a form of enmity.

Are you their enemy? Not necessarily. But still, are they your enemy? They may be an enemy of you, but you don't have to be an enemy of them.

Somehow it's possible to look at someone as not being your enemy, even if they are dangerous, untrustworthy, clearly intending evil for you. They are your enemy, and it is wise to understand that, but at the same time, and in a different sense, you can see them as not being your enemy.

There's a connection between seeing someone as an enemy to you, and you being an enemy to them. Who is a person, essentially? Just a person, no more or less. Accidentally, they may be hellbent on contending for their own side.

(We have to be careful how we see evil.)


Not everyone who likes you is your friend. But liking helps. Liking draws people closer to each other. Whether they choose to really become friends at that distance, may or may not occur.

A friend is someone who is genuinely on your side. Often, it's better to not be on someone else's side at all than to falsely be on their side.

Perhaps you don't share all of your life with a friend. You put your differences of opinion outside the friendship, because you must each be on a different side of a question, and you wish to remain on the side of your friend in the areas where you do overlap. Do you respect your friend's differing point of view? You might not be able to respect it if you think it's evil.

You don't have to make friends out of everyone. Jesus commands us to love our enemies.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Ministry of Love

In 1984, George Orwell depicts a totalitarian society which immiserates and degrades its citizens. And yet many of the people seem to be okay with it. The society keeps itself together, in part, through its "Ministry of Love", which tortures and breaks down people until they come to love the status quo as it is.

The irony is that the narrative many people tell of their lives is of a kind of positive Ministry of Love, which converts them from being bad or unrealistic people through perhaps painful means.

How do you know which it was? A humbling which "you needed"? Or the operation of an evil world order? The status quo keeps itself the status quo somehow. Purely by chance something must tend to come to make it hard for it to be otherwise than it is, if nothing intentional comes.

Maybe you know by comparing your mind, and society, against some kind of reference point which stays the same after your breakdown. In 1984, it seems that perhaps the depicted society is so far gone that you can't even have that reference point. But our society is not so bad yet. Yet, if we do not choose to look at the reference point, it's functionally the same as if we didn't have one available.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

God Breaking Consensus

Genesis 11:

1 The whole earth was of one language and of one speech. 2 As they traveled east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they lived there. 3 They said to one another, "Come, let's make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." They had brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. 4 They said, "Come, let's build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top reaches to the sky, and let's make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad on the surface of the whole earth."

5 Yahweh came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men built. 6 Yahweh said, "Behold, they are one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do. Now nothing will be withheld from them, which they intend to do. 7 Come, let's go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another's speech." 8 So Yahweh scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth. They stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there Yahweh confused the language of all the earth. From there, Yahweh scattered them abroad on the surface of all the earth.

I'm not sure if human civilization is attempting to do the exact same thing as the people in this story. But I can see us trying to form a unity within ourselves that excludes God. If everybody agreed that there was no God, or that God didn't really matter, then what could get us to change our minds? If the things we make satisfy us more and more, then why would we seek God? Our ability to make a structure (and before that, or at the same time, a consensus) that satisfies us as we are, is perhaps the fastest route to happiness. And why wouldn't we take the fastest route to happiness? Arguably, it's immoral not to.

Anarchy is an obvious problem, when it goes wrong. But order is a subtler and more seductive problem, when it goes wrong. Likewise antisocial behavior is an obvious problem that every society has some compensating response against. But consensus is a danger we don't have much experience with, don't have as many built-in safeguards against.

We can have a consensus someday, but whatever that consensus is, it has to include God as someone with a voice in it.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Don't Worry, Work

Sometimes I'm disconnected from the world, but other times I engage. I read what's on Twitter, when I can't seem to find anything else to do. There's something about really thinking about the particulars of what is going on in the world that can put anxiety into a person's body.

I feel like I'm learning something, by reading the feed, and that means I'm accomplishing something. But in reality, the amount of work getting done is small compared to the sense of work getting done.

What can we do to solve the world's problems? We are so helpless. All we can do is read the news and feel the appropriate human feelings. It's the best we can do -- or is it?

It's entirely possible that the world can't be fixed. It will fall apart. It's possible that it can be and it won't. Nobody really knows.

It may be somewhat helpful for us to talk about how we do things. I don't know if the following is something that would help anyone else, but this is how I try to handle these situations of news anxiety. It's a little like Stoicism or the Bhagavad-Gita. It combines two of Jesus' teachings: 1) Don't worry, and 2) work.

Here is my take, which might innovate (for better or worse):

as to 1 -- You have to be willing to die, and to suffer. And to see those you love die, and suffer. And to be willing to assume that civilization will die out -- none of your efforts will come to anything, and everything will be destroyed. It may be difficult and not up to you to feel all that willingness as true, in your body, but you can defy that, you can be yourself and as yourself accept total loss, and it's possible your body will follow. It is easier to bear this if you believe in God -- even the thought that everything will perish is easier to bear if God is real;

-- and as to 2: dispose of your resources as diligently and effectively as you know how (start by disposing of them a little more diligently and effectively). If you can't figure out something to do to deal with "the situation RIGHT NOW", then try to work on solving similar situations 5 years from now, or 10. You can always learn something now that might help you later. Try to think deeply and invent plausible dreams. Work on solving a small problem, even if you can't solve a big one.

How would God judge you? Does God say "They didn't save the world... I'm angry"? Why would we be able to save the world? Maybe we can. But is there a good reason why humans necessarily ought to be able to? However, if the Bible is any indication, God gets angry at us if we don't use our ability to work.

The malaise we feel from the news is fear. Fear is somehow a virtuous thing. But the Bible says, in Proverbs 26:13:

The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road! A fierce lion roams the streets!"
If responsibility turns into fear ("I need to save the world; I need to know the news") and fear turns into inaction, then responsibility is doing the same job as laziness in keeping us in bondage: perhaps in Proverbs, to the bed; but in our cases, to our screens. And it may be possible that deep inside us sometimes it is laziness, the laziness of following the string of pearls in the feed, fed to us, which causes us to feel so discouraged, so incapable of motion.

Guilt implies hope -- if you hold yourself accountable, you can discover strength.


Sometimes it's better to rest than to work. If reading the news is restful, as it can be for some people, then that could be good. Somehow for me, reading the news, or any kind of social media for very long, simultaneously promises me rest and work while giving me neither. A friend of mine says that social media steals your time.


I'm writing this [16 January 2021], having trouble sleeping -- somewhat from the news, somewhat from life. When I stop typing, the anxiety comes back in my body. So I try to make the best of my time, by writing. This writing may encourage you -- or likely enough, a future version of me.

Parables of the Talents and Minas

This post is about two parables, and a vision of the future that goes with one of them.

In the parable of the talents, and the parable of the minas, someone in charge goes on a journey, entrusting his concerns to servants. They are given amounts of money to take care of. Two people in each parable make more money with the money they have been given. One person in each parable is afraid of the person in charge, and doesn't use the money to make more money. The person in charge, in the end, is happy with the two who work, and unhappy with the one who is afraid.

Is the one who is afraid of the master humble? Are the other servants humble for working diligently? Maybe there are good humilities, and bad humilities.


Parable of the Minas:

Luke 19:

11 As they heard these things, he went on and told a parable, because he was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that God's Kingdom would be revealed immediately. 12 He said therefore, "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. 13 He called ten servants of his and gave them ten mina coins, and told them, 'Conduct business until I come.' 14 But his citizens hated him, and sent an envoy after him, saying, 'We don't want this man to reign over us.'

15 "When he had come back again, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by conducting business. 16 The first came before him, saying, 'Lord, your mina has made ten more minas.'

17 "He said to him, 'Well done, you good servant! Because you were found faithful with very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.'

18 "The second came, saying, 'Your mina, Lord, has made five minas.'

19 "So he said to him, 'And you are to be over five cities.'

20 Another came, saying, 'Lord, behold, your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief, 21 for I feared you, because you are an exacting man. You take up that which you didn't lay down, and reap that which you didn't sow.'

22 "He said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant! You knew that I am an exacting man, taking up that which I didn't lay down and reaping that which I didn't sow. 23 Then why didn't you deposit my money in the bank, and at my coming, I might have earned interest on it?' 24 He said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina away from him and give it to him who has the ten minas.'

25 "They said to him, 'Lord, he has ten minas!' 26 'For I tell you that to everyone who has, will more be given; but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away from him. 27 But bring those enemies of mine who didn't want me to reign over them here, and kill them before me.'" 28 Having said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.


Parable of the Talents:

(To understand the following best, think of "talent" as "a large quantity of money", its original meaning.)

Matthew 25:

14 "For it is like a man going into another country, who called his own servants and entrusted his goods to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his own ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 Immediately he who received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 In the same way, he also who got the two gained another two. 18 But he who received the one talent went away and dug in the earth and hid his lord's money.

19 "Now after a long time the lord of those servants came, and settled accounts with them. 20 He who received the five talents came and brought another five talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents. Behold, I have gained another five talents in addition to them.'

21 "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things, I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'

22 "He also who got the two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents. Behold, I have gained another two talents in addition to them.'

23 "His lord said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a few things. I will set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'

24 “He also who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you that you are a hard man, reaping where you didn't sow, and gathering where you didn't scatter. 25 I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the earth. Behold, you have what is yours.'

26 "But his lord answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn't sow, and gather where I didn't scatter. 27 You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. 28 Take away therefore the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will be given, and he will have abundance, but from him who doesn't have, even that which he has will be taken away. 30 Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

Immediately after, in Matthew 25:

31 But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, 'Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you took me in. 36 I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me.'

37 "Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and come to you?'

40 "The King will answer them, 'Most certainly I tell you, because you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' 41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you didn't give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you didn't take me in; naked, and you didn't clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn't visit me.'

44 "Then they will also answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn't help you?'

45 "Then he will answer them, saying, 'Most certainly I tell you, because you didn't do it to one of the least of these, you didn't do it to me.' 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."


These might sound like fanciful stories meant to get us to say "Helping people is good. Not helping people is bad." We have a hard time bearing to think that some people will be sent to a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" for not working when they could have. Perhaps we think that that place of weeping is hell. In the above, it may be that the "outer darkness" where the unprofitable servant goes is not hell, but that the "goats" found in the vision of the future, and the enemies of the nobleman found at the end of the parable of the minas, do go to hell, and ultimately it is their enmity with Jesus which makes them destined for that fate.

Among the "sheep" in the vision of the future are people who didn't take every opportunity to help Jesus whenever he was really present in a needy person's suffering. Yet they are righteous -- they are no longer the people who ignored the suffering of others. But those who are enemies of Jesus do not have his help in really getting past that, because enmity with Jesus involves rejecting his help -- perhaps in most or all cases, enmity with Jesus and rejecting his help are identical -- and they must face punishment without his help. Jesus can be angry at people who are ultimately going to be saved, requiring them to mature in the environment that they need to be in for a time: outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. (We may be familiar with an experience of darkness like this from our own lives.)

With that in mind, maybe then we can bear to take the parables or visions of the future literally. We can take Jesus' anger seriously, the anger of someone who has the right to be angry, angry at us for not seeing a world of suffering as a field of ample opportunity.


Now, is it really the case that anybody thinks "God is a hard master, so I will do nothing for him, and only return my talent to him unused"? I don't hear people saying that.

But maybe it's still applicable. There is such a thing as "hard, exacting master" mentality. Because God is thought to be a "hard, exacting master", we think in terms of "Am I saved? Or am I lost?" rather than "How is God doing? How are people doing?" If we ask the latter set of questions, then we tend to work. But if we ask the former set of questions, then in order to see ourselves as saved, we stop paying attention to how God wants us to work. Out of our image of God as hard and exacting, we create a defense mechanism ("salvation") which prevents us from working.

Unfortunately, asking and therefore promoting the question "are you saved?" is meant to be the way in which people perform the ultimate good deed, to save someone from hell. We raise that question to get people to see the value of following Jesus, following in some minimal way. So the person hearing "are you saved?" is taught from the beginning of their religious walk to think that salvation is the point. They may or may not ever figure out on their own that they're supposed to love God, and that that love ought to involve their whole being. And that in order to love God, part of that involves serving him and other people -- work.

In reality, if we do not love God, we are not ready for eternal life. At best, we may be on the right track. So evangelists might ask "Do you love God? Are you sure?"

The language of "are you saved?" makes a lot of sense if it is assumed that time is precious, and the mouth of hell waits for far too many people. This is one evangelical view. So we have to strip down the Christian religion to "a faith that is barely capable of saving", but therefore quick and easy to transmit. Churches are incentivized to come up with gospels that work, ones which are popular. But now churches lament the lack of spiritual maturity in their midst. In some churches, the leaders get burned out, while many followers seemingly do nothing. Maybe the leaders are "shepherds" and the followers are "sheep" -- implying, perhaps, that like literal shepherds and sheep, the latter never become the former. But then, we are all just human beings, so one might think that at least some sheep can become shepherds. But why would they? They're saved, right?

In some cases, perhaps people are immature and value their own salvation more than they value anything else. So God is a giant salvation machine, to them. But in other cases, people are busy and demotivated. What kind of incentive do they have for fighting against inertia and fatigue, to go do some laudable but supererogatory thing? We can love our friends and family quite naturally -- this is a "gravity" thing. But anybody else, we have to go out of our way to help. And we're saved, so we don't have to do anything. Salvation gives us the assurance that we can live our everyday lives.

The MSLN view is that we are not fully saved until we are fully in tune with God. To be in tune with God requires that we love him, and if we love him, we will come into tune with him. Does God put his own salvation first? We wouldn't be here if he did. So we must become like him, and come to not put our own salvation first. And if we are concerned about salvation and want to know what it is, it is identical with loving God. (We love other people and ourselves as part of loving God, and less than we love God.)

Do we really love God? Do we take for granted the people we really love? So we should not be complacent. But as Jesus warns us above, thinking that God is hard and exacting is a way to bring out his hard and exacting side. So we should never despair that God won't offer salvation to us if we seek him.

Loving God More

From Matthew 22 (also referred to in this post):

34 But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"

37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

As a result of life experience, I have come to the view, for myself, of wanting to love God more than I love myself, or other people.

But other people might not want there to be any setting of one over the other. Love is all just one thing. If you love God with all your being, you can do that by loving yourself and other people with all your being, too.

There may well be no conflict between loving yourself and other people on the one hand, and loving God on the other, in an ideal case. But I think that it's important to realize that loving God and loving people are not always identically the same, because God is a separate person than us. Further, he is capable of having desires and intuitions other than our own about how things should be. God is an underrepresented voice in our lives, despite his omnipresence. If our opinions, desires, points of view, etc. are in conflict with God's, then there is a problem, and we should definitely love God more than we do anyone else in that case.

(One reason why is that God is legitimacy.)

In order to love God, you have to love other people. So that might be the right way to approach things: love God by loving people. Loving people as an expression of your love for God.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Reading List Preview: Moral Realism and Anti-Realism

I want to learn more about moral realism and moral anti-realism. So I'll be reading this "sequence" of posts on the subject, as a reading list. [Update: this link is more user-friendly.]

Here is a list of my questions on the topic, some of which I hope the reading list will answer, and some which I do not think it will, but which I may answer myself as I read:

Why are moral anti-realists moral in practice?

Does moral anti-realism come as a pragmatic choice? (We might choose it so that everything moral depends on human consensus, rather than all humans having to agree on the same external moral standard. Also moral anti-realists would perhaps not feel as often that their way was right, and thus they would find it easier to get along with other people.)

Or is moral anti-realism something which comes from a full pursuit of what is true? (Trying as hard as you can to be epistemically rational, you will find yourself not believing in moral realism).

Do people believe things because they are true, or for pragmatic reasons?

If our pragmatism is ill-founded, what can cause us to change? (A moral realism? Can we approach morality with enough of a sense of responsibility to the truth to even believe in moral realism, though it confronts our current sense of practical well-being?)

Can moral anti-realism prevent extinction risk from voluntary anti-natalism? Or from AI manipulating human biology so that we no longer have the drive to survive and resist AI? (Or, perhaps more realistically, from the drift of cultures of AI or AI plus the humans who have some influence on them, causing us to lose interest in survival?) Future people coming to positions, that they hold ostensibly voluntarily, that undo everything we find meaningful morally. (X-Risk makes a case for dealing with X-risk, like it's our mature responsibility to do so. But why should we be obliged to care about it any more than we already do? It's entirely possible that people in the future won't. So are we morally obliged to care? If so, then why can't that moral obligation apply to our descendants? But then we would want some kind of time-invariant morality, probably a moral realism.)

Do we "want" realism for our own purposes (moral realism a construct for our own pragmatic ends) or is realism something forced on us that we have to adapt to? We take physical reality as a hard given and don't complain too much, so presumably we could adapt to a morality that was as "rude" as it is. But perhaps we fear a real morality because it threatens our well-being as we currently understand it. It's as though humanity forms a consensus of what we like, and that's our reality, the one we construct. And moral realism is either part of that human-constructed reality (and thus is safe, but not fully independent of us after all) or it's outside that consensus and is independent, as real as physics, and it might go against our consensus. I think, as a matter of fact, the fact that there even is a debate over moral realism vs. anti-realism may indicate that we have some kind of choice, that we are not forced.

If we aren't forced to believe in moral realism, is there some other way to relate to reality which does cause us to adhere to it? Strictly speaking, none of us are forced to believe in external reality or other minds. But we investigate what is there before us, and we want to know what there is to know about what we see, in case it is real. This exploratory, perhaps "amatory" or "altruistic", approach to knowledge could apply with moral realism. From a theistic analogy, we can do what's right because it is right because of God, and God forces us to do it; or we can do right because it is right because of God, and that's enough for us, since we love God. We can believe a truth because it is true and we are forced to acknowledge it for reasons of survival or expedience (pragmatism), or we can believe it because it is true, because we love truth. I can think of a theistic moral realism and know of at least one atheistic moral realism (Rawlette's). Do we 1) "love moral realisms to be true" (even atheistic ones), or do we 2) construct them to be true, or are we 3) forced to find them true? Another analogy for "love something to be true" is to go out to meet that truth, put yourself out there, explore to find it, work to believe it once you see that it's there. Can truths believed this way still be epistemically rational? They aren't identical to constructed truths, but are they still too similar to them, if constructed truths fall short of those needed for realism?

Might we be psychological anti-realists despite our belief in moral realism? Might we be rational anti-realists because we are psychological anti-realists? For any number of reasons, a person's brain can become disposed to not believe in things, or to not even trust the category of belief in certain things (find things to "not even be true").

This list should be enough to start with.

I somewhat wonder if I should look for more readings on this important topic, besides the sequence mentioned above. Maybe I'll feel up to it when I am done with that.


Update: having begun to read the sequence, I find some links to add to the reading list:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) on John Mackie's Argument from Queerness

Wikipedia on G. E. Moore's Open Question Argument

Peter Singer The Triviality of the Debate Over 'Is-Ought' and the Definition of 'Moral'

Alonzo Fyfe and Luke Muehlhauser Morality in the Real World podcast (transcripts here). (Not sure what's in this but it might have something to do with realism vs. anti-realism -- at worst be an example of a moral realism). Episodes I listened to:

"01 Introduction"

"02 God is Not the Ground for Morality"

Monday, January 11, 2021

News: 11 January 2021

I finished the population ethics reading list. I'm thinking of reading a moral realism vs. anti-realism reading list that is on my list from the EA Forum already. It could help me with the The Feeling of Value review. I'm getting closer to finishing that one.


I made a card game (a set of rules) which is a fun way to get acquainted with texts from the Desert Fathers, Simone Weil, and Ramon Llull (and Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, the Sufis, Zen masters, and so on...).

Reading List Review and Postview: Population Ethics

This is the review and post-view for the population ethics reading list.

I found the articles to be of varying relevance to my project. Some of them were long, and I didn't finish them. The two most useful were "Infinite Ethics" by Nick Bostrom and "Population Axiology" by Hilary Greaves.

I thought of reading through the articles twice. But I decided against it due to my declining interest in the subject. Picking low-hanging fruit (/ giving an idea of how I think MSLN applies to infinite and population ethics) seems like a reasonable thing for me to do, but anything that slows me down is probably a bad use of my time, because I'm not really an expert in ethics anyway, and think it unlikely that I ever will be. So I can sketch out relatively obvious things, and see if someone more qualified finds problems with them.

I think from now on, unless I feel particularly moved, I won't re-read reading list papers. Although I did refer to Greaves' paper in writing my response.

Besides this post and the preview post, I derived two posts from reading this list: God is a Good Utility Monster and MSLN Infinite and Population Ethics.

Looking back at the preview, I see that one of my starting intuitions was that population could be any size, as long as people live lives of true well-being. This is fulfilled (unless there are problems I don't currently see with it) by the "rest view" of "MSLN Infinite and Population Ethics". The other was something like the Mere Addition Principle: if one new baby is born and their life goes well, that's good, right? The rest view isn't as favorable to this intuition, but I'm basically satisfied with the compromise in it (a large but finite population, necessarily limited by God's need for rest).

I see that I left some questions for my future self to see:

"1. Is there a rational way to decide how large a population should be? If not, then we are in a situation where we have to decide without a right answer."

The rest view recommends that we have whatever size population is most effective at reducing hardening. Answering this question is not trivial, but in principle there is an answer. We can't have a firm, verified measure of hardening, but we can make common sense guesses as to how hardening works and what kinds of environments are better or worse for it, and then measure our progress using those. With that in place, if we have enough resources to think this question through, we should be able to come up with a best guess.

"2. Questions of moral philosophies affecting population-ethical views:"

The basic idea with these was to see if there were any ideas that could help choose between expansionary and contented growth strategies. We could find ourselves unsure whether to choose between, say, total and average utilitarianism, and "break the tie" by considering one of the following.

"a. Hedonism lends itself to having more and more. Preferentialism can lend itself to that but also can lend itself to saying 'everybody got what they wanted, so we don't need any more.' With preferentialism, there's a question of 'what should people prefer?' The answer to that might answer the question 'should we want more and more, or should we be content?' Or we could say that there's no good or bad preferences. Then we wonder what random preferences humans might have, and how they might tilt toward more or fewer people."

I don't have much more of an answer as of this writing.

"b. What about fiducialism? Is fiducialism a "more and more" thing ('adventure', as in the Fiducialism booklet), or inherently about connecting with what is ('mission', or "receptivity to reality")? 'Mission' is itself about the reality of people. This lends itself to saying 'connect with the reality of existing people'. But then, couldn't it lend itself to saying 'there ought to be more people', to whose reality one could connect? So that's a hole in fiducialism to try to fill."

As of the date of posting this, my general sense is that there's nothing greedy or compelled about fiducialism, but there's also something open to expansion in it. So, too hard to tell whether it's more in favor of growth or contentment? Effectively neutral? There are different flavors of "neutral". For instance, a high variance and low variance life can be very different, even if on average they might be the same. So a neutral of "I don't care" is different than a fiducialist neutral.

"c. What do people mean to us? Are they to be seen economically, or in some other way? And given the answers to those questions, how strict should we be in making ourselves live according to economic thinking?"

I guess MSLN suggests that God sees nobody solely economically, even if we have to. (Even if there were an infinite number of us, God would directly and personally relate to each of us). But I suppose even God might have to think about quantities of people, in order to make things go best for the most number. This would be in addition to his direct relationship. This relationship with all individuals is something human utilitarians are unable to have. But maybe there are cases where we can think of people less economically.

"3. What might population ethics look like given the God of MSLN?"

Answered in "MSLN Infinite and Population Ethics".

"a. God had some reason for creating people in the first place (unless there is no reason). Does this mean that in absence of a defeater, he will never stop creating people?"

According to the rest view, no.

"b. Would God value having more and more for its own sake? Is God a slave to maximization?"

The rest view avoids having to answer this question by saying God can't keep having more and more people. Plausibly, God lives according to fiducialism, and feels both the adventure and mission side of it, but maybe mission is the stronger impulse in God. So maybe he would favor rest and contentment, and thus be immune to the compulsion to maximize.

"c. Are people created new, or is there a fixed supply of people created once and for all at the beginning of time, which God then brings into consciousness during their time in history?"

I wouldn't assume that there is a hard limit from a kind of "pre-existence", and I don't think there is a reason why there would be one (at least, not that I can think of).

"Possible answer: We are called to enter God's rest, and presumably God seeks rest, too. New people have to work out their salvation, which is not restful for God. So it seems like there is some finite limit to population, so that there can be a time of permanent rest afterward.

"If so, maybe if we increase population above baseline, what we're doing is accelerating the end of the world.

"Or, if God can handle our turmoil forever, he can create people forever. If he thinks there aren't enough people, he can always create more. Ultimately, it's his decision how many people there are, because he pays the biggest price for human experience and ultimately has power over the way things are. So if we create more people, he may cause fewer to be created elsewhere."

How could God handle our turmoil forever? Maybe by taking periods of rest in between batches of new people. I tend to think that wouldn't work, because God can anticipate the pain of what is to come, and that anticipation would be at least a little bit unbearable. Or very unbearable, depending on the interplay between God's sensitivity and his patience. Jesus had a moment where he was in anguish over having to go the cross, and the Father might have a similar moment in anticipation of creating a new world.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

MSLN Infinite and Population Ethics

Notes on the "rest view" of population ethics (MSLN population ethics).

To understand this, first read population axiology by Hilary Greaves. (That was my source.) Or search for such terms as:

population ethics

total view

average view

critical level view

Repugnant Conclusion

Sadistic Conclusion

Additionally, Greaves (p. 5) defines the Mere Addition Principle as:

The Mere Addition Principle: Let A be any state of affairs. Let B be a state of affairs that is just like A except that, in addition, some extra people with lives worth living exist in B who do not exist in A. Then B is not worse than A.

(These are notes, rather than a normal post. Fewer words, but you may have to think more. Let me know if this format works.)

The rest view (compare with total view, average view, etc.): God wants to rest. He can't bear what is unbearable forever -- that's what unbearability is all about. New people start out of tune with him and have to come into tune with him. They suffer, and God suffers with them. They also violate legitimacy, which is God. This also causes God to suffer. (These things are unbearable to him.) God can suffer for a finite time, but not infinitely. So there must come a time when no new people are created. There must be a finite number of people who can be with God in the end. It probably has to be an arbitrary number, and it has been chosen or will be chosen by God.

(What if God creates an infinite number of people at once? See the end of this post.)

Ultimately, what threatens entering God's rest is hardening. So well-being can be defined as "likelihood to not be hardened". Society tries to reduce hardening. Hardened people must be destroyed -- God feels the pain of loss.

How does rest view stand up against problems that affect other views?

Repugnant Conclusion: We don't have to create people if we can't take care of them, because God can always create more. He can prolong the duration of the world, to give more time to create people.

Mere Addition Principle: adding a person who won't be hardened is always good. It's not necessarily our responsibility to add that person.

Sadistic Conclusion: Say you have one person with low (less than 50%) likelihood of not being hardened. And you have four people with high (more than 50%) likelihood of not being hardened. If you compare creating the one with creating the four, which is more likely to cause one or more people to be hardened? Whichever one is less likely to produce the hardened outcome is better. I don't think there's anything counter-intuitive here.

What would a society do if it were following the rest view? It may take a certain amount of civilization to be effective at managing temptation and anti-temptation. It takes a certain amount of people to have civilization. And also to make civilization robust, likely to survive. God doesn't or can't intervene in civilizational development beyond a certain point, so a civilization may be a valuable thing to him that we should protect and improve. So there would be a reason to increase population up to a point. (No obligation to engage in space colonization.) Other than the above considerations, try to have a smaller, better-cared-for population.

Strategies for raising likelihood of making it into God's rest, listed in increasing degree of acceptability to secular government: increasing MSLN theism, managing temptation / increasing anti-temptation, fiducial utilitarianism (treats hardening in general, without recommending loyalty to a specific God).

Infinite population (see also "infinite ethics" -- I read Bostrom's "Infinite Ethics"): I'm not sure that infinity can be real (haven't figured out a position on it but intuitively would lean toward "no"). But assuming that it can be, and that we have a population that is infinite in quantity, what then? The number of saved and the number of lost would both be infinite, but the size of the two infinities could vary, and that's an angle of attack for policymakers. Another way to look at it would be: suppose the rate of hardening is 1 per 5. If you have a stream of people, it would look like (where 1 is unhardened and 0 is hardened) 1 1 1 0 1. Or, if you sample ten people, you could get 1 1 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 1. For whatever finite sampling of the infinite number of people, you will get 1 hardened per 5 unhardened. It's as though there's a density of hardening of 0.2 (20%). 0.2 is a finite number, which (ideally) can be reduced. It requires an infinite number of people to reduce it (but in this scenario, there are an infinite number of people). Would the people actually know to try to reduce the density? God is present in all of reality (even if reality is infinite), so he works to reduce that density in all regions, through the people that exist in them.

If, say, I decide to disobey God and thereby not help my neighbor who is heading toward hardening, then does that matter? It might appear that it does not, if it's assumed that I'm the only one who disobeys. The infinity of other people, lost or saved, would dominate that one loss. The total number of people saved, and lost, would both be infinite, regardless of what I do. But the loss of my neighbor matters to God, who knows everyone, even if there are an infinite number of people. Does God care that the math says that the loss of the person doesn't matter? God's opinions are the foundation of reality, so if he cares, people matter, despite what the math may say.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Mixed Stagnation

Gangrene is caused by poor circulation. If there is enough sugar in the blood, bacteria can reproduce, producing an infection that can cause death.

A society with too much wealth can also have stagnation, where some people have nothing to do, and people who do have work do meaningless things.

It's possible to have blood that circulates just fine in a body that still has some serious circulation problems. It's possible to be a very busy person and have parts of your life that are stagnant.

A person can lack money, friends, or the ability to be content with the wealth that they do have -- poverty -- and yet can still have wealth in them. They can be sure that they are right -- believing that things can't be better. And they can feel like on some level, they are done, have figured things out, and can be rich enough to not turn to God -- despite the poverties they do feel.

Rest vs. Stagnation

As I write this, I am at home during the coronavirus pandemic. Over this same pandemic, I have also been recovering from some mental health problems. I feel like this extended time spent mostly in the same place has been good. I probably would have chosen this if there hadn't been a pandemic. At the same time, though my situation is not really the most confined, I sometimes feel some kind of cabin fever. If I sit still, I rest. But I can also feel like I need to move, if I sit still long enough. And sometimes I am a slave to my sitting still, and find I can hardly will to move, though it occurs to me to try to will it.

If civilization lasts long enough, it will become sustainable. There are two endpoints: sustainability, or death. I think it is likely that a sustainable civilization will have to be mostly static. If things change too much, our ability to be physically sustainable to a sufficient degree could be threatened. And as time goes on, the possibilities of discovering new ideas for what a culture can be will be exhausted. I wonder if we have exhausted many or even most of them already, most rapidly in the last 200 or 300 years. So we may find ourselves settling on one final culture, having seen what there is to see, and there may not be much change or novelty left.

"Static" can imply both "restful" and "stagnant". So if this final culture is a restful one, that's one thing, and if it's stagnant, that's another. Ordinarily, rest is a positive thing. And stagnation is a negative thing. So we would want to seek rest, rather than stagnation.


There are only two endpoints, when we're talking about position, but when we're talking about rate of change, there is a third. In other words, there are three stable ways of life which can in principle be extended nearly to infinity: death, sustainability, and endless growth. Endless growth is one way to flee stagnation. It requires an endless supply of space to grow into. We could colonize an infinite universe, and never learn to rest.

Could there somehow be endless cultural growth? Perhaps if we're talking about cultural artifacts, such as movies or books, we could be engineered to have new senses and new emotions, so that we could still have new things. If people can be modified without boundary, we may be able to have all kinds of new experiences. (Modifying people without boundary is dangerous, as well.) But would society be different? Or would we all have settled into a pattern where everything was arranged optimally and we lived in experience machines, or their equivalents? A planet could spread its "optimal plus experience machine" culture to some other planet -- maybe they have to adjust to the atmosphere on the new planet, which is different than the ones they've had to deal with before. But most people on the home world will just be keeping things going. Will there be faster than light travel or communication? If not, then each planet will be isolated from the others. There will be a pull toward stasis on each planet, even if space colonization gives some reason for a minority to do something somewhat novel.

But as we get better at colonizing planets, the risk and therefore the novelty will be sanded away. We may get into patterns of "Yet another planet. Might as well stay home and plug into the experience machine instead." And much of the process could be automated, once we get good at it. So society and its people could be faced with the question: stagnation, or rest? A sure and steady and effective program of endless growth is its own kind of stasis. It's a formula. Some people will realize this, if enough of us aren't completely immersed in the experience machine.


Can we find rest in an experience machine? Perhaps. A crude kind of experience machine (watching YouTube or Netflix, reading novel after novel) tends to produce stagnation. But we can imagine that a really good experience machine wouldn't. At least, we could provide the experience of rest in an experience machine. But perhaps rest vs. stagnation is not just about experience, but also about objective reality. So if I am lying on the couch all the time, it doesn't matter what my virtual reality headset has going, I'm not moving. If I am not risking something or trusting something as a person, then every action or romance "holodeck program" I experience adds up to zero -- it doesn't cost me anything, doesn't make me confront anything. Everything it accomplishes it erases with the resolution of the plot; or the return to the experience machine to choose another experience is its own final plot point -- "it was all a dream".

Isn't rest vulnerable to the same criticism as stagnation? When you rest, don't you lie down on the couch just as much? What are the dangers of stagnation? One is that you don't grow enough. Another is that you are not open enough. You can never be receptive to the best if you aren't open to it. So you will be unable to experience the best if you are stagnant. If you are stagnant and satisfied with stagnation, that is the worst. "The best" could be some kind of superlative. "Greater bliss, that no man has ever known" is the goal of some. But "the best" could be "getting to live, at all". Depth and reality sand away the fakeness in all who will consent to be sanded, and thus it is possible for them to be really real, and thus continue to exist forever. So we could say that stagnation leads to death, but rest is eternal life. So, many of us have not experienced true rest, and are either satisfied with stagnation or are attempting to run away from it.

Stagnation is when something that needs to move isn't moving, and it becomes (or remains) fake, sick, or even deadly. Rest is when something doesn't need to move.


It looks like we're headed to some kind of stasis -- on our current trajectory, maybe toward total immersion in the experience machine, and if feasible, space colonization. Will that stasis be rest, or stagnation? Or perhaps a deletion of what it means to be human, a destruction of personhood through the end of meaningful choices, risks, and trustings? That's yet another possibility -- maybe conscious stagnation, for all its downside, has the upside of being a choice, which we could reject. But we could become apersonal, atrophying whatever it is that makes us who we are, so that we are experiencing machines, in symbiosis with the experience machine.

In order to really rest as a civilization and as individuals, we have to take care of all the outstanding issues. We need to have achieved perfection -- in other words, become actually good. What are the actual issues remaining?


Yet, you can feel rest as rest, when you're resting. It's like how you can see the meaning and validity in the objects you directly perceive. Rest really is restful. But if we stay in repose long enough, we find ourselves in a new moment, where if we are sensitive, we will realize that we are beginning to stagnate. Stagnation is really stagnant -- we experience that directly, and find ourselves either enslaved to it, or running away from it, working away from it.

A stagnant pond is not flowing. So if we are really restful, there will be some kind of motion within us, or flowing into us from an outside source, and flowing out of us, away from us. A pond can sit perfectly still, and yet not be stagnant, because the water moves. A pond is not at rest when the flow within it is turbulent, but when the flow is laminar, it can be.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Contributions to Hardening

If MSLN is true, then there is some risk that people will become hardened to the voice of God, and fail to complete coming into tune with him. This could happen, I would think, if a person became an enemy of God consciously, became self-satisfied, became insensitive enough to morality (in that that just is what God wants), became unreceptive to beliefs about God, and perhaps in other cases.

If hardening occurs, it is necessary for people to be destroyed by God, because he can't bear our disharmony forever. Those who are destroyed do not experience eternal life. This is the only source of permanent loss in MSLN, and creates the most pressing moral necessity in it.

There are two possibilities: people are 100% responsible for whether they are hardened ("personal hardening"), or less than 100% responsible (others are also somewhat responsible -- "environmental hardening"). In the latter case, we can be responsible, sometimes, for establishing environments in which other people do not become hardened.

Is it likely enough that MSLN is true, and hardening is possible, and there can be "environmental hardening"? If there is a non-Pascalian nonzero chance of those three things obtaining, then we should employ all sufficiently costless measures to create environments favorable to escaping hardening. If that chance is high enough, we should employ more costly measures, in keeping with its probability.


How can hardening happen? I'm not sure and can't verify this (I don't know if anyone could), so we're left with common sense to forecast.

The theory that I will propose is that we are both tempted and anti-tempted. Our environments offer us the occasion to choose temptation. We either take it, or we don't. If we have fewer occasions, we may be less likely to freely act on them. Each temptation has the chance to move us away from God. There is memory in the process -- previous choices by us create our starting place in a new moment. We might give in, or leap, to temptation. But anti-temptation can work the same way, bringing us back toward God.

If we give in or leap to temptation enough, we can make ourselves enemies of God. Not all temptation is equally dangerous to cause this. But sometimes, in effect, we are tempted to become enemies of God, and if we give in or leap to this, then we are enemies of God, and if this is established enough, we are hardened.

The emphasis on temptation may make it seem like it would be good to cause everyone to have an obviously or outwardly moral life, but hardening is more about no longer having the inner movement toward God. So giving in to anti-temptation may be a better goal or benchmark than not giving in to temptation.

Some temptations are quiet and come with ease. Ease is dangerous. Some temptations are good, at least on some level. (Otherwise God wouldn't allow them in his world.) Getting rid of all temptations is a mixed strategy -- maybe counterproductive. If you got rid of the obvious temptations, you might be left with the temptations of ease. Creating anti-temptations seems like a safe strategy. Anti-temptations help with both a tempting and an easy environment.

A note from a previous draft of this post:

If we do target temptations, it may be best to target those which are most closely connected to hardening: temptations to self-satisfaction, to selling yourself out to an unworthy belief system, to wanting the world to be a certain way in conflict with God, moral desensitization, or a direct enmity with God -- and anything else which we can tell is closely linked with hardening. Another, overlapping, approach would be to say that the most dangerous temptations are those that impede anti-temptation.

If we want to be utilitarians, we might tend to prefer fiducial utilitarianism over hedonic or preferential utilitarianism, because fiducialism is inherently about opening people up and connecting them personally to reality outside themselves, hopefully something that if applied generally opens a door to God among the other doors it opens.


This all makes sense to me rationally, and I think that as far as I can tell right now (January 2021), I see a significant risk of "environmental hardening" being the case, and so it's an area I should do something to help with. But it doesn't make as much sense emotionally or intuitively. It could be that I haven't been raised to have those emotions or intuitions. I was raised in a church where hell was "on the books" but seldom mentioned. People around me rarely if ever seem concerned with the possibility of lostness.

I had a similar emotional / intuitive difficulty believing in a suffering God who negotiates with his spiritual enemies, as you may see here, written in 2017. Now, in 2021, I don't have much trouble "feeling" the truth of it. So I wonder if the same effect may hold here. I haven't thought about this issue much before.

Christian Reasons For Expanding the Moral Circle

Writing status: This is a little out-of-hand and probably raises some questions I'm not aware of.

The moral circle is the set of all beings to which we consider ourselves to have moral obligations. Something can be inside, or outside, one's moral circle, a member, or not, of the set of beings to which we consider ourselves to have moral obligations. The reason for why something belongs in the moral circle is because it has feelings, especially that it suffers, in such a way that we need to respond to its circumstances. Generally, we need to respond when something threatens a feeling being's well-being. (This is how "moral circle" is generally used, and that is how I'll be using the concept in this post. Conceivably, we could have moral obligations for other reasons.)

As we come to really take into account the existence of feeling beings, we include them in our moral circle. So for instance, we might consider that the impairment of well-being that happens in distant countries of people we will never know personally is just as bad as that which happens to us or to people we care about personally, in our own lives. Therefore, if we are morally obligated to help the people in our own lives, we should help the people far away if we can, all things being equal.

A Christian could counter-argue that righteousness comes by faith, and that the point of the gospel is that it is not you who save yourself by your works, but rather God who saves you by his grace. It could be argued that to a Christian, moral obligation does not exist. We live in the freedom of being covered by Jesus' blood, shed on the cross.

Is it really Christian to say "I don't have to worry about anything in secular ethics. I don't rely on reason. I rely on grace. I am OK."?

It may be the case that salvation is only by grace, apart from works. I think this is an area that is nuanced. Perhaps forgiveness of sins is by grace, but repentance is up to us. I think that makes sense, and maybe I will find that the Bible supports it, when I do another study of the Bible to check against the religious philosophy I've been working on. I think something like that is what the New Wine System teaches, according to its developer.

But I will grant for the sake of argument that perhaps grace saves, and "saves" means "does everything that it takes to give a person eternal life". In that case, if your only concern is salvation, then great. As soon as you do whatever it is you need to in order to receive that grace (or even, nothing at all, if that's all that's required), then you can live your life as you please. You can be as moral as you feel like, and no more moral than is reasonable, in your eyes.

You certainly care about your own well-being. You are covered by grace, and have received the gift of salvation, in which you rest. But do you love God? Do you have the same heart as he has for people? Can you love someone without caring about what they care about? If you're the kind of person who only cares about your own salvation, do you think God is pleased with you? Do you think God can leave you in that state? So God will eventually teach you to care like he does. If grace saves, then you were always saved. But God will make you care like he does.

Does God love you? Does he love people far away? If he loves you, why not people far away? Are you better than them, more deserving of a life of comfort and wealth than they are? It's true that there is some nuance to this. The material wealth of the West isn't all it's cracked up to be. Material wealth doesn't always make life better. And a certain amount of impaired well-being is an acceptable part of life. But some people suffer so much for being poor that there isn't really that much nuance in their case. Suffering itself beyond a certain threshold is impaired well-being, and God suffers with their suffering, just as he does with yours. If you can alleviate your own suffering, you tend to do that. So why not alleviate others' suffering? You love God by alleviating your own suffering, and you love him by alleviating that of distant people. This is the love of a healer healing, or a servant washing someone's feet.

So far, I haven't brought up the Bible. I can't provide a rigorous survey right now of the Bible's teachings on economic sin. But I can give some basic thoughts that are suggestive. In general, I know that many references to caring for the poor can be found in the Bible. The Old Testament prophets talked about that. Also in the New Testament, James speaks strongly against people who hold onto their wealth, causing the deprivation of those who work for them. One could say that James is no better than Paul, who says "salvation is by grace through faith, apart from works", but then, is Paul any better than James? I don't think that "salvation is by grace through works" means "we don't need to do the right thing" (not even Paul believed that), but if "grace" is taken to mean "we don't need to do works", then supposing that we need the words of Jesus to settle the dispute we might see between James and Paul, what does he say?

Luke 10:

25 Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"

27 He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

28 He said to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live."

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?"

30 Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, 34 came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' 36 Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?"

37 He said, "He who showed mercy on him."

Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

The people in Jesus' audience in 1st-century Palestine couldn't have been held accountable for people in the New World, and perhaps not for people in China. But nowadays, we can encounter people who are distant from us. We hear that they are metaphorically lying by the side of the road, and we can choose to be neighbors to them, or not. Do we want to do what Jesus said? Do we care what he thinks and feels? You could argue that technically, the priest and the Levite could have inherited eternal life, because the man by the side of the road was someone they didn't have to be a neighbor to, so he wasn't. But if we are to love God with all our beings, as Jesus and the lawyer agreed were the way to eternal life, then we have to be interested in what Jesus wanted.

It's interesting to note that the lawyer thinks (and Jesus doesn't contradict) that to do good to someone is to show mercy to them. Altruism can have different psychological fuels, like how you can have a gas stove, or a wood stove, which itself can burn different kinds of wood. If we have mercy, when we recognize that the people around us do not love like Jesus wanted us to love, and that we do not either, we do not judge.

At the same time, if we want eternal life, we need to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. These commands are ones that we ourselves can keep, if we have time. So the New Wine System teaches that we have time in which to learn after death, before we are brought before God to be with him forever. Someday we must become the kind of people who really do have the heart of God.

Some might say things changed at the cross, though. Maybe much of Jesus' teaching can be set aside, since he taught it to people before his death. Once he died, his death covers our sins, so we no longer need to take his living words as literally. How much actually changed at the cross, though? Consider these two passages from Matthew:

Matthew 5 (Jesus speaking):

17 "Don't think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn't come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."

And Matthew 22:

34 But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, testing him. 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?"

37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'" 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

Jesus says, in Matthew 5, that there is a law that lasts until heaven and earth pass away (which means, we are still under it). Is this the law of Moses? Or is this the law of loving God with all your being, and your neighbor as yourself? This might be hinted by the Matthew 22 quote. Or is it some other law?

It seems like another candidate might be "profess to be a Christian and approve of the people in your life". Grace says "You aren't any better than anybody else -- you need grace -- so approve of other people. And faith is how you're saved -- just think that you trust God, and you do." That sort of sounds like it's a subset of "love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself". Certainly disapproving of people can hurt people sometimes.

Note that the "profess and approve" (arguably grace-and-faith-based) formula does fairly well with leading you to love your neighbor as yourself, but not as well with leading you to love God with all your being. The profession is only a beginning compared to loving God with all your being.

Because "profess and approve" is easier, it's popular, and the kind of thing people like to believe. It's an easy way to get people to like you. Just say "Let's go easy on each other and ourselves and approve of each other, professing faith in God", and you are more likely to make friends than if, among your prosocial "love your neighbor as yourself" (which might win you some popularity points, since it causes you to benefit people), you also say "love God with all your being". "Profess and approve" is a version of Christianity that the universal culture would select for. (To the extent that "love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself" is popular and selected for, it tends to downplay loving God in any way that threatens to take away from human well-being, and so it tends to be a different flavor of the same appealing-to-humans thing.)

But the law that lasts to the end of heaven and earth that is actually offered by Jesus might be "love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself", but he did not set up the "profess and approve" law (or the "love God with all your being which means nothing other than loving your neighbor a lot" law). He didn't want us to judge, and yet he himself did not approve of everyone and everything. He told people he was being kind to to stop sinning. Professing allegiance to Jesus certainly counts for something, and something like approving of other people (not judging them, as Jesus commanded) also counts for something, and they could be considered part of the "love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself" law. They are an entry point to the bigger and fuller law of love. (And so can the "love people" laws that are used as substitutes for "love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself".)


Many people, among those who "profess and approve" and those who "love people", if asked, would identify as those who love God. If we identify as those who love God, then why shouldn't we care about how he feels about his other children? To live up to our calling as lovers of God -- as children of God -- we should care about people who live far away from us. There are practical limitations to our ability to help people far away, but they are not absolute, and within them we should do something.

However, is this exactly the same thing as "expanding the moral circle" in a secular sense? Is this really moral obligation, and is this something done as a response to the impaired well-being of another feeling being? In Jesus' parable of the Samaritan helping someone he runs into on the side of the road, the action taken is definitely in response to the injury of a feeling being.

As to moral obligation, if we want eternal life, we must obey God's commands to love. You could look at that as moral obligation -- "we must" -- or not -- "we must only if we want eternal life and" -- presumably -- "we want God's approval" -- he set up the incentive to make things be the way he wanted them. But God's approval is the approval of legitimacy itself, and what is required to satisfy legitimacy is morally obliged, since morality is what legitimacy wants.

We find ourselves unwilling to say "thus says God" in moral areas (rely on God's commands to love as the foundation of moral obligation) and tend to rely on secular morality instead. Maybe it sounds overbearing to bring God into the picture. So instead we rely on the secular psychology of morality that relies on instinct and social pressure to produce feelings of moral obligation. But with God as the basis of moral obligation, there can be such a thing as realistic absolute standards -- grace allowing for the attainment of uncompromising holiness. Whereas, godless morality throws out wild absolutes with no way to live up to them -- so people become moral anti-realists. God, who is legitimacy itself (/himself), the truth, requires us to be aligned with him -- being aligned with legitimacy is itself to have fulfilled moral obligation. So I think we are morally obligated due to other's impaired well-being, but that moral obligation doesn't work the same in the context of God, as in the context of godlessness.


What about non-human animals? Extending the moral circle to non-human animals makes sense from a secular perspective. Materialists tend to want to do that, because animal brains aren't sufficiently different from ours in most (or all?) cases for us to think that they don't suffer consciously. From an immaterialist standpoint, we may think that animal bodies that appear before us only appear to have consciousnesses (similarly, we may think that other people are only p-zombies). But ordinaristically, we see that people are conscious and so are non-human animals. Even if we are sticklers for immaterialist ontology, ignoring the ordinary, we should have uncertainty that non-human animal bodies do not have animal consciousnesses associated with them, in the way that each of our own bodies are associated with each of our consciousnesses. This uncertainty should keep us from disregarding them as feeling beings.

Similarly, it makes sense to have some sense of uncertainty that artificial intelligences that behave sufficiently like humans are not conscious.

But what does the Bible say? There's nothing in the Bible about artificial intelligences, unless you expand what you mean by that to include organizations and states, which do not seem to be regarded as having personhood in a literal sense (although they can in a symbolic sense, as in prophecy). As to animals, again, this is not an exhaustive survey, but in Jonah 4, it says:

10 Yahweh said, "You have been concerned for the vine, for which you have not labored, neither made it grow; which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 Shouldn't I be concerned for Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred twenty thousand persons who can't discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also many animals?"

This lends some weight to the thought that God cares about animals. From Jesus (Matthew 10):

29 "Aren't two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Therefore don't be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows."

God cares more about humans, but vs. 31 wouldn't be as reassuring if we thought that God didn't care about the value of sparrows at all.

Why might God care about animals, but not as much as about humans? I'm not really sure. One possibility is that humans are sons and daughters of God, while animals are no more nor less than animals. God is more akin to us than he is to animals (the Bible says that we are made in his image, but does not say this of non-human animals).

I have thought before that animals may be persons -- do I think they are persons in the full-fledged sense that we are? In the sense that we say "I think, therefore I am", the way that we know ourselves as people, the full meaning behind the "I" that we speak there? Or are they only persons in the sense that they are consciousnesses with wills and preferences? Is there a difference between the latter and the former? If there is, then animals can still suffer, trust and have their preferences thwarted, and yet not be full persons.

Animals may not have free will in the same way that we do, at least to the extent of not being capable of moral reasoning, and thus are not capable of really loving God, really choosing him, or any other being, for that matter. When animals love, they have no choice, perhaps. It is also possible to look at lives and persons as different in terms of valuing them. So it's valuable to God to make animal lives go well (e.g., not be unremitting suffering), but animals themselves, as persons or proto-persons, are not as valuable. (The contents of these last two paragraphs are speculations that I may revisit later.)

From all this, I feel somewhat safe saying that the Bible supports eliminating gratuitous animal suffering, such as that caused by factory farming or cruelty to animals. We have enough uncertainty about whether God cares about animal suffering (importantly, it's hard for us to rule out that his care does not include caring about their suffering) that in cases where we don't really need to cause animal suffering, we shouldn't.


Finally, it is important for Christians to include God in their moral circle. This is part of loving God with all our being. God has well-being. The Scriptures say that he has emotions, which have been negative in response to events on earth, and our time is no exception. So we have a reason to care about him, in himself. But we tend to forget this.

One possible reason for this is that among Christians there are two opposing ideas (or ideas like one or the other of them): one, that we should adjust ourselves to fit God because he is perfect (and he is perfect according to a human idea of what perfection is -- he is all-great and thus can't have any kind of need by which we could benefit him); and the other, that God exists primarily to serve human well-being, or that human well-being was always truly what God wanted (and well-being is to be understood according to a human understanding of well-being), therefore we have no need to inquire into God's well-being, since God's well-being, if it exists, is identical with ours as we understand it (and perhaps we would also want to include the rest of creation to be considered with us -- plants, and animals, and so on). We can see the influence of these two ideas, or ideas like them, in various parts of Christianity, and perhaps there are not so many who are free from both of them.

If God is part of our moral circle, we might have to change to adjust to that fact, just as how the inclusion of distant people into our moral circle can change our lives.

Friday, January 1, 2021

2020 to 2021

Review of 2020:

In the first half of 2020, I was taking a break from blogging that I had begun at the end of 2019. In that time, I studied Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, about three or four books for each (also a bit on Taoism). When I got back into the blog, I worked on MSLN. The Future of Beauty was written toward the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019, but it took until 2020 to edit it fully and release it.

In 2020, Scott Alexander took his blog down for fear of doxxing, so I looked around for other things to read and found the EA Forum. I read a lot about AI, and got into some of the questions related to longtermism. I learned some EA epistemic and communication norms.

Preview of 2021:

I have three reviews that I want to finish: (X-Risk, The Feeling of Value, and a population ethics reading list, all three of which come to me out of effective altruism. When I finish enough of them, I intend to start reading and reviewing one of George Berkeley's books, as well as more of the EA reading lists.

I don't have a very firm plan for where I'm going in 2021, except to develop MSLN more.