Tag Archives: ethics

free philosophy courses

That’s right, this is a list of free online (or podcast) philosophy courses. I think if more people studied ethics and morality throughout their lives, and really challenged themselves to struggle with it (them?) on a regular basis, the world would be a better place. And no, I am not talking about just business and professional ethics, but personal ethics or morality, whichever you prefer to call it.

Finnish-ing school

Certain countries just lend themselves to English puns. Hungary? Try some Turkey Chile fried in Greece. The Finnish must get particularly tired of this sort of thing. But luckily they can be smug in the knowledge that their schools are good.

Finland’s historic achievements in delivering educational excellence and equity to its children are the result of a national love of childhood, a profound respect for teachers as trusted professionals, and a deep understanding of how children learn best…

Children at this and other Finnish public schools are given not only basic subject instruction in math, language and science, but learning-through-play-based preschools and kindergartens, training in second languages, arts, crafts, music, physical education, ethics, and, amazingly, as many as four outdoor free-play breaks per day, each lasting 15 minutes between classes, no matter how cold or wet the weather is. Educators and parents here believe that these breaks are a powerful engine of learning that improves almost all the “metrics” that matter most for children in school – executive function, concentration and cognitive focus, behavior, well-being, attendance, physical health, and yes, test scores, too.

The homework load for children in Finland varies by teacher, but is lighter overall than most other developed countries. This insight is supported by research, which has found little academic benefit in childhood for any more than brief sessions of homework until around high school.

The Sokal Affair

From Wikipedia:

The Sokal affair, also called the Sokal hoax,[1] was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmoderncultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”.[2]

The article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”,[3] was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist.[4][5] On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax.[2]

The hoax sparked a debate about the scholarly merit of humanistic commentary about the physical sciences; the influence of postmodern philosophy on social disciplines in general; academic ethics, including whether Sokal was wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text; and whether Social Text had exercised appropriate intellectual rigor.

I get that he was trying to expose poor practices in the publishing industry. I still find it unethical that someone would use their own reputation and credentials to publish information they personally know is fake or deceptive.

Sokal also created a Postmodernism Generator, which generates a random article using postmodern buzzwords each time you refresh it. I don’t find this unethical, because it is not pretending to be something it is not. Just for fun, I’ll refresh it just now and give you the first paragraph. But you really should try it for yourself.

Neotextual structuralism in the works of Rushdie

The main theme of Werther’s[1] essay on dialectic
postsemanticist theory is the common ground between class and society. If
Sontagist camp holds, we have to choose between dialectic postsemanticist
theory and neodialectic construction. It could be said that the subject is
interpolated into a neotextual structuralism that includes consciousness as a

The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct

Two academics wrote a joke paper called “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct“, submitted it to a peer reviewed social science journal, and got it published. While are a couple excerpts. And I want to say that while I am amused by this, I don’t find it remotely ethical.

We conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations. The conceptual penis presents significant problems for gender identity and reproductive identity within social and family dynamics, is exclusionary to disenfranchised communities based upon gender or reproductive identity, is an enduring source of abuse for women and other gender-marginalized groups and individuals, is the universal performative source of rape, and is the conceptual driver behind much of climate change…

Destructive, unsustainable hegemonically male approaches to pressing environmental policy and action are the predictable results of a raping of nature by a male-dominated mindset. This mindset is best captured by recognizing the role of [sic] the conceptual penis holds over masculine psychology. When it is applied to our natural environment, especially virgin environments that can be cheaply despoiled for their material resources and left dilapidated and diminished when our patriarchal approaches to economic gain have stolen their inherent worth, the extrapolation of the rape culture inherent in the conceptual penis becomes clear.


November 2016 in Review

Sometimes you look back on a month and feel like nothing very important happened. But November 2016 was obviously not one of those months! I am not going to make any attempt to be apolitical here. I was once a registered independent and still do not consider myself a strong partisan. However, I like to think of myself as being on the side of facts, logic, problem solving, morality and basic goodness. Besides, this blog is about the future of our human civilization and human race. I can’t pretend our chances didn’t just take a turn for the worse.

3 most frightening stories

  • Is there really any doubt what the most frightening story of November 2016 was? The United Nations Environment Program says we are on a track for 3 degrees C over pre-industrial temperatures, not the “less than 2” almost all serious people (a category that excludes 46% of U.S. voters, apparently) agree is needed. This story was released before the U.S. elected an immoral science denier as its leader. One theory is that our culture has lost all ability to separate fact from fiction. Perhaps states could take on more of a leadership role if the federal government is going to be immoral? Washington State voters considered a carbon tax that could have been a model for other states, and voted it down, in part because environmental groups didn’t like that it was revenue neutral. Adding insult to injury, WWF released its 2016 Living Planet Report, which along with more fun climate change info includes fun facts like 58% of all wild animals have disappeared. There is a 70-99% chance of a U.S. Southwest “mega-drought” lasting 35 years or longer this century. But don’t worry, this is only “if emissions of greenhouse gases remain unchecked”. Oh, and climate change is going to begin to strain the food supply worldwide, which is already strained by population, demand growth, and water resources depletion even without it.
  • Technological unemployment may be starting to take hold, and might be an underlying reason behind some of the resentment directed at mainstream politicians. If you want a really clear and concise explanation of this issue, you could ask a smart person like, say, Barack Obama.
  • According to left wing sources like Forbes, an explosion of debt-financed spending on conventional and nuclear weapons is an expected consequence of the election. Please, Mr. Trump, prove them wrong!

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

climate change and agriculture

This section of the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Risk Report explains in a fair amount of detail how climate change is likely to cause food shortages.

The risk to food security is especially great because agriculture is already straining to meet a rapidly growing demand from a finite resource base. The combined impact of a rising population and growth of the middle class – wealthier people eat more cereal-intensive meat – is set to drive a demand increase of 60% by 2050.3Yet the global average yield growth for cereals has slowed in recent years; it already lags behind demand growth. This gap cannot be covered by an expansion of cropland because of the need to protect forests and other areas of high value for conservation and carbon sequestration. Agriculture is increasingly competing with other uses for land – such as urbanization, transport, bioenergy, forestry and mining – and so crop production is pushed towards ever more marginal soils.4

Yet more worrying is the fierce competition for water, the lifeblood of agriculture. Water withdrawals have increased threefold over the last 50 years, and demand is anticipated to rise by a further 40% by 2030.5 With a shift in global production towards intensive systems that rely on groundwater resources for irrigation, along with the current growth in demand for water-intensive animal products, agriculture becomes even thirstier. At the same time, urbanization and industrialization in emerging and developing economies are also driving up demand for fresh water in energy production, mineral extraction, and domestic use, further stretching the already tight supply.6

Against this backdrop of tightening constraints, climate change seriously threatens food security in two ways. First, it will harm agricultural production: rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns will slow yield gains, contributing to higher food prices and an increasingly precarious supply-demand balance that will make markets more prone to volatility. Second, it will increasingly disrupt food systems: more extreme weather will destabilize tighter markets and exacerbate volatility, imperil transport infrastructure and trigger local food crises. As a result, the risks of humanitarian emergencies, national or regional instability and mass migration will increase. In the words of a former Executive Director of the World Food Programme, “without food, people have only three options. They riot, they emigrate, or they die.”7 The security implications will be felt by developing and developed countries alike.

In other words, the world might be in trouble on food even if climate change were not a factor. The combination of heat and drought that will be brought on by climate change will add to the risk, potentially destabilizing many populous areas of the world. The world’s response to climate change has been too little, too late, but at least there have been steps in the right direction the last few years. Being willfully ignorant of the risk and reversing the small progress we are making would be an evil, immoral thing to do.

exit polls

I hate the election outcome, and yet you won’t find me out in the streets protesting just because I’m a sore loser. You might find me out in the streets if and when the new administration starts taking immoral actions, such as denying people access to health care, reversing progress on climate change, or endangering the stability of the international financial system.

I don’t doubt for a second that there are a lot of errors and inefficiencies in the U.S. election system. That is because it is so decentralized and disorganized. I doubt it is hackable on a broad scale though, just because it is so decentralized and disorganized. The fact that the results were so consistently surprising in so many states to me is further evidence that the polls and exit polls were just biased.

The exit polls are just weird though, as Jonathan Simon points out. The election result is different from the pre-election polls by several percentage points in Trump’s favor. One explanation that is consistent with the facts is that the way “likely voter” was defined by the pollsters was wrong. In other words, enough “unlikely voters” turned out to deliver the election to Trump.

This logic is a little harder to assign to exit polls though. Exit polls are supposed to be a random sample of people who actually voted. The exit polls in this election were very consistent with the pre-election polls, and very inconsistent with the vote count. What could explain that? Either the sample of people who actually voted has to be biased, or people have to have lied on a large scale, and in a very consistent and biased way.

I don’t have the answer. I think we need to accept these election results and move on. But a thorough review of the process to make sure it is as transparent and verifiable as possible in the future would be a great idea.

September 2016 in Review

3 most frightening stories

  • The U.S. and Russia may have blundered into a proxy war in Syria. And on a loosely related war-and-peace note, Curtis LeMay was a crazy bastard.
  • The ecological footprint situation is not looking too promising: “from 1993 to 2009…while the human population has increased by 23% and the world economy has grown 153%, the human footprint has increased by just 9%. Still, 75% the planet’s land surface is experiencing measurable human pressures. Moreover, pressures are perversely intense, widespread and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity.” Meanwhile, as of 2002 “we appropriate over 40% of the net primary productivity (the green material) produced on Earth each year (Vitousek et al. 1986, Rojstaczer et al. 2001). We consume 35% of the productivity of the oceanic shelf (Pauly and Christensen 1995), and we use 60% of freshwater run-off (Postel et al. 1996). The unprecedented escalation in both human population and consumption in the 20th century has resulted in environmental crises never before encountered in the history of humankind and the world (McNeill 2000). E. O. Wilson (2002) claims it would now take four Earths to meet the consumption demands of the current human population, if every human consumed at the level of the average US inhabitant.” And finally, 30% of African elephants have been lost in the last 7 years.
  • Car accidents are the leading cause of death for children ages 5 to 24. The obsession with car seats may not be saving all that many lives, while keeping children out of cars as much as possible would be 100% guaranteed to save lives. And one thing that would be guaranteed to help us create more walkable neighborhoods and therefore save children’s lives: getting rid of minimum parking requirements in cities once and for all. And yet you don’t hear this debate being framed in moral terms.

3 most hopeful stories

3 most interesting stories

  • Monsanto is trying to help honeybees (which seems good) by monkeying with RNA (which seems a little frightening). Yes, biotech is coming.
  • Some people think teaching algebra to children may actually be bad. Writing still seems to be good.
  • There have been a number of attempts to identify and classify the basic types of literary plots.