Thursday, May 31, 2007

Julian Baggini - missing the point

Julian Baggini on Cif:

The only sensible basis for a case against intervention is that it is ineffective or counter-productive. Well, sometimes it is, but to say we have a duty to intervene does not mean we should always do so, without any regard for the consequences.

The odd thing about this debate is that there are two groups for whom anti-intervention is a rational, consistent stance to take. One is market fundamentalists, who believe that the only way to improve the world is through the invisible hand working through free trade. The other is narrow nationalists who believe that we only have duties to "our own". That these people should be lining up with critics of interventionism on the left is a sign that something is wrong.

The problem with this is that it’s a straw man, the only people who oppose intervention outright are “market fundamentalists” and “narrow nationalists”.

In the past I’ve found myself arguing online with left-wingers opposed to intervention in places like Iraq and the Sudan, but in every case their opposition sprang not from a rejection of the idea of intervention but from the belief that intervening would only make the matter worse – they felt that the selfish motives of the UK and US would see civilians sidelined in the pursuit of oil/influence/etc. I’ve never encountered anyone who didn’t feel that we had a “duty” to help those in need.

The actual danger is in the widespread knee-jerk cynicism that holds that the west is incapable of acting in a humanitarian fashion.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why are atheists moral?

It’s a question which gets asked with a depressing frequency on theist blogs. The following is a comment by Alex, but it expresses a worry which seems to be felt by a number of religious believers:

My natural impulses strongly urge me to do things that most any reasonable person would admit is immoral. My immoral urges are often much stronger than what I know to be the moral action. I have the ability to choose which option I go with. I use reason to play out the scenarios of both choices before I act. If I am able to reason that I could go with the "immoral" impulse (that is much stronger) and get away with it, is there anything that should stop me from pursuing this end?

I to – being human – have a number of “immoral” urges. So why don’t I act on them? Hmmm… perhaps because doing so would more than likely leave me friendless, jobless, hunted by the police and wracked by guilt at the misery I’d caused.

At what point does that become attractive?

Immoral acts – i.e. acts which cause pain and/or suffering to others – are attractive only to psychopaths. The rest of us, regardless of our metaphysical beliefs, have plenty of good reasons – internal and external – for avoiding them.