Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?

I was. As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshmen in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture.

A misleading distinction between fact and opinion is embedded in the Common Core.

What I didn’t know was where this attitude came from. Given the presence of moral relativism in some academic circles, some people might naturally assume that philosophers themselves are to blame. But they aren’t. There are historical examples of philosophers who endorse a kind of moral relativism, dating back at least to Protagoras who declared that “man is the measure of all things,” and several who deny that there are any moral facts whatsoever. But such creatures are rare. Besides, if students are already showing up to college with this view of morality, it’s very unlikely that it’s the result of what professional philosophers are teaching. So where is the view coming from?

A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

Hoping that this set of definitions was a one-off mistake, I went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” The definitions I found online were substantially the same as the one in my son’s classroom. As it turns out, the Common Core standards used by a majority of K-12 programs in the country require that students be able to “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.” And the Common Core institute provides a helpful page full of links to definitions, lesson plans and quizzes to ensure that students can tell the difference between facts and opinions.

So what’s wrong with this distinction and how does it undermine the view that there are objective moral facts?

First, the definition of a fact waffles between truth and proof — two obviously different features. Things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once “proved” turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat. It’s a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives). Furthermore, if proof is required for facts, then facts become person-relative. Something might be a fact for me if I can prove it but not a fact for you if you can’t. In that case, E=MC2 is a fact for a physicist but not for me.

But second, and worse, students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation….

By Justin P. McBrayer – New York Times –

Understanding The Fear Of Self-Defense And Revolution

Our era is a strange one when considering how social attitudes have developed in such a contrary fashion to the rest of history. I think that our forefathers would look upon our current culture with bewilderment when confronted with the fact that our generation has all but abandoned the option of physical rebellion as a tool for social change. Even among the most enslaved of nations and peoples, the idea of revolution has been held in regard as an entirely moral and principled affair involving every individual, no matter their age or economic station. Today, however, that which we call “revolution” has been delegated mostly to college-age intellectuals and has been so watered down and whitewashed with politically correct restrictions that the concept is hardly recognizable.

I believe the civil rights movements in America and in India in the 20th century have in many ways warped the public view of how opposition to totalitarianism is actually accomplished. I find it interesting that movements led by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. enjoy so much adoration in mainstream media and in public schooling, while the American Revolution is often either misrepresented or not discussed at all. Gandhi’s movement was, in concrete terms, a failure until Indians had actually began organizing to physically fight the British, causing the Crown to attempt to defuse the movement by suddenly offering up a reformation of Indian governance (one that would continue to benefit them). When one examines the facts surrounding Cointelpro operations by the FBI and CIA during the civil rights movement in America, one realizes that half the efforts and actions were legitimate and the other half entirely manipulated.

Over the course of half a century, the philosophy of “anti-violence” has come to include a distinct distaste for self-defense. Self-defense is now consistently equated to “violence” (and is, thus, immoral), regardless of environmental circumstances.

Even in the liberty movement, there are people who disregard physical defense as either barbaric or “futile” and have adopted rather less-effective pacifist ideologies of more socialist activism. The problem with certain factions of libertarianism is that they tend to live within their own heads, reveling in a world of Ayn Randian and Rothbardian political and social theory, while abandoning the other side of concrete resistance. Some in the survival community call these people “egghead libertarians,” and I think the label fits.

They rejoice only in the intellectual; thus, they tend to see themselves only as “intellectual warriors.” For them, the war against tyranny by extension must be fought on an intellectual battlefield. Otherwise, as individuals, they have little to offer the resistance. They believe that if they merely present a better and more logical philosophy, they will win over the masses to their side or even change the souls of the rather soulless psychopaths creating tyranny in the first place. Like magic, they will have won the fight without ever truly fighting. It sounds like a strategy right out of the “Art Of War,” but really it is an intricate excuse designed to avoid risk.

They have almost no experience with and, therefore, no respect for the concept of self-defense and revolution. And they have no capacity to fathom what such an endeavor would entail. This unknown scenario inspires fear in them — a fear of struggle, a fear of failure and a fear of death….

By Brandon Smith – Alt-Market.com –

Secession begins at home

As the Austrian Economist Mises wrote in 1927: “The situation of having to belong to a state to which one does not wish to belong is no less onerous if it is the result of an election than if one must endure it as the consequence of a military conquest.”

I’m sure this sentiment is shared by many of you. Mises understood that mass democracy was no substitute for liberal society, but rather the enemy of it. Of course he was right: nearly 100 years later, we have been conquered and occupied by the state and its phony veneer of democratic elections. The federal government is now the putative ruler of nearly every aspect of life in America.

That’s why we’re here today entertaining the audacious idea of secession — an idea Mises elevated to a defining principle of classical liberalism.

It’s tempting, and entirely human, to close our eyes tight and resist radical change — to live in America’s past.

But to borrow a line from the novelist L.P. Hartley, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.” The America we thought we knew is a mirage; a memory, a foreign country.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is precisely why we should take secession seriously, both conceptually — as consistent with libertarianism — and as a real alternative for the future.

Does anyone really believe that a physically vast, multicultural, social democratic welfare state of 330 million people, with hugely diverse economic, social, and cultural interests, can be commanded from DC indefinitely without intense conflict and economic strife?

Does anyone really believe that we can unite under a state that endlessly divides us? Rich vs. poor, black vs. white, Hispanic vs. Anglo, men vs. women, old vs. young, secularists vs. Christians, gays vs. traditionalists, taxpayers vs. entitlement recipients, urban vs. rural, red state vs. blue state, and the political class vs. everybody?

Frankly it seems clear the federal government is hell-bent on Balkanizing America anyway. So why not seek out ways to split apart rationally and nonviolently? Why dismiss secession, the pragmatic alternative that’s staring us in the face?

Since most of us in the room are Americans, my focus today is on the political and cultural situation here at home. But the same principles of self-ownership, self-determination, and decentralization apply universally — whether we’re considering Texas independence or dozens of active breakaway movements in places like Venice, Catalonia, Scotland, and Belgium.

I truly believe secession movements represent the last best hope for reclaiming our birthright: the great classical liberal tradition and the civilization it made possible. In a world gone mad with state power, secession offers hope that truly liberal societies, organized around civil society and markets rather than central governments, can still exist.

Secession as a “Bottom-Up” Revolution….

“But how could this ever really happen?” you’re probably thinking.

Wouldn’t creating a viable secession movement in the US necessarily mean convincing a majority of Americans, or at least a majority of the electorate, to join a mass political campaign much like a presidential election?

I say no. Building a libertarian secession movement need not involve mass political organizing: in fact, national political movements that pander to the Left and Right may well be hopelessly naïve and wasteful of time and resources.

Instead, our focus should be on hyper-localized resistance to the federal government in the form of a “bottom-up” revolution, as Hans-Hermann Hoppe terms it.

Hoppe counsels us to use what little daylight the state affords us defensively: just as force is justified only in self-defense, the use of democratic means is justified only when used to achieve nondemocratic, libertarian, pro-private property ends.

In other words, a bottom-up revolution employs both persuasion and democratic mechanisms to secede at the individual, family, community, and local level — in a million ways that involve turning our backs on the central government rather than attempting to bend its will.

Secession, properly understood, means withdrawing consent and walking away from DC — not trying to capture it politically and “converting the King.”

Secession is Not a Political Movement!

Why is the road to secession not political, at least not at the national level? Frankly, any notion of a libertarian takeover of the political apparatus in DC is fantasy, and even if a political sea change did occur the army of 4.3 million federal employees is not simply going to disappear.

Convincing Americans to adopt a libertarian political system — even if such an oxymoron were possible — is a hopeless endeavor in our current culture.

Politics is a trailing indicator. Culture leads, politics follows. There cannot be a political sea change in America unless and until there is a philosophical, educational, and cultural sea change. Over the last 100 years progressives have overtaken education, media, fine arts, literature, and pop culture — and thus as a result they have overtaken politics. Not the other way around.

This is why our movement, the libertarian movement, must be a battle for hearts and minds. It must be an intellectual revolution of ideas, because right now bad ideas run the world. We can’t expect a libertarian political miracle to occur in an illibertarian society….

All of us, regardless of ideological bent and regardless of whether we know it or not, are married to a very violent, abusive spendthrift. It’s time, ladies and gentlemen, to get a divorce from DC.

This article is adapted from a talk presented at the Houston Mises Circle, January 24, 2015. – Mises Institute –

Psychology of Tyranny for a Philosophy of Despotism

…The sickness that engulfs society today is a direct result of abandoning the search for truth. Tyranny can be defeated, but it will take courage to break away from the psychopathic distortions and lies. It will take brave souls to confront the normal pattern of despotism. This objective bears the ultimate fruits from living a life of philosophical integrity….

The underpinnings that fallaciously attempt to justify despotic regimes rely upon the perverted practice of controlling the public mindset in weak societies. The indisputable evidence that civilization is regressing at lightning speed is all us. Governments are becoming irrelevant with the passage of illegitimate authority consolidating into the hands of oligarchic cabals and global tyrants. An objective study of the voluntary abandonment of individual sovereignty is worthy of an entire scholarly discipline. However, before confused citizens seek psychoanalysis on a couch of technocrat design, the basic principles of a classical education should be applied.

Philosophical inquiry is meant to seek an understanding of the truth. Truth, when known, vindicates the dignity of the person and the value intrinsic within the human race. Therefore, it comes as a great letdown to face up to the horrendous savageness that society accepts as typical behavior. The Psychological techniques used to train people to accept tyranny as the normal course of conduct is practiced by every despotic regime.

Jon Roland in an essay, “Principles of Tyranny”, provides a valuable insight. “Perhaps one of the things that most distinguishes those with a fascist mentality from most other persons is how they react in situations that engender feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

The emergence of tyranny therefore begins with challenges to a group, develops into general feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, and falls into a pattern in which some individuals assume the role of “father” to the others, who willingly submit to becoming dependent “children” of such persons if only they are reassured that a more favorable outcome will be realized. This pattern of co-dependency is pathological, and generally results in decision-making of poor quality that makes the situation even worse, but, because the pattern is pathological, instead of abandoning it, the co-dependents repeat their inappropriate behavior to produce a vicious spiral that, if not interrupted, can lead to total breakdown of the group and the worst of the available outcomes.

In psychiatry, this syndrome is often discussed as an “authoritarian personality disorder”. In common parlance, as being a “control freak”.

Mr. Roland identifies the following traits associated with a tyrannical regime:

By Sartre – Breaking All The Rules –

Would Finding Alien Life Change Religious Philosophies?

By Megan Gannon – Space.com –

The discovery of extraterrestrial beings — be they slimy microbes or little green men — would dramatically change the way we humans view our place in the universe. But would it shatter religion? Well, that depends on what you believe.

In his new book “Religions and Extraterrestrial Life” (Springer 2014), David Weintraub, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University, takes a close look at how different faiths would handle the revelation that we’re not alone. Some of his findings might surprise you.

Public polls have shown that a large share of the population believes aliens are out there. In one survey released last year by the company Survata, 37 percent of the 5,886 Americans who were polled said they believed in the existence of extraterrestrial life, while 21 percent said they didn’t believe and 42 percent were unsure. Responses varied by religion: 55 percent of atheists said they believed in extraterrestrials, as did 44 percent of Muslims, 37 percent of Jews, 36 percent of Hindus and 32 percent of Christians. [7 Huge Misconceptions about Aliens]

Weintraub found that some religions are more accommodating to the idea of E.T. than others. Those with an Earth-centric spiritual point of view are the most likely to be made uncomfortable by questions about the discovery of aliens. Certain evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, for example, are of the opinion that God’s sole intent was to create people here on Earth. Some believe that if God created life anywhere else, it would say that in Genesis, Weintraub said.

But some Christians who interpret the Bible quite literally might actually have an easier time incorporating the existence of aliens into their spiritual cosmology. Many Seventh-day Adventists, for example, are creationists who believe the Earth was literally created by God in six days some 6,000 years ago and that humans descended — and inherited original sin — from Adam and Eve. In that line of thinking, life could exist on other planets, but beings that didn’t descend from Adam and Eve on Earth wouldn’t be inherently sinful, and effectively, they wouldn’t need Christianity to be saved, Weintraub told Live Science.

Seventh-day Adventism’s flexibility with regard to aliens might be a product of the time in which the religion was founded (the 19th century). During the 1700s and 1800s, there was a strong popular belief in extraterrestrial life, Weintraub said. The telescope (a relatively recent invention) finally allowed astronomers to peek at other planets and moons in our solar system, but scientists didn’t yet fully understand that these celestial bodies were barren. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that the religions that began at that time — Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Baha’i Faith — all have a strong belief in extraterrestrial life, Weintraub said.

In contrast, the notion of extraterrestrial life was for the most part irrelevant to religions that began thousands of years ago.

“Ideas about extraterrestrial life — if they’re part of the sacred writings — they’re buried a little bit deeper,” Weintraub told Live Science. “They’re not obvious. They’re layered below the top. In Jewish scripture, there’s pretty much nothing there. You really have to over-interpret to find anything that you can marginally say might have anything to do with extraterrestrial life.”

Of course, aliens have figured into the beliefs of small cults and fringe religious groups. In a famous example, 39 members of the so-called Heaven’s Gate group committed suicide believing they would leave their earthly bodies and reach an alien spacecraft trailing the comet Hale-Bopp in 1997. Weintraub didn’t look at these groups (nor did he analyze Scientology), but he said it’s likely that future religions would spring up and seize on the discovery of extraterrestrial life.

“There are a lot of so-called UFO religions, and I’m sure that if we discovered that there really was life beyond Earth, there would be lots more of these kinds of things,” Weintraub said. “There undoubtedly would be people who would find this as an opportunity or an excuse to call attention to themselves for whatever reason and there would be new religions.” [UFO Quiz: What’s Really Out There]

With advances in exoplanet research and astrobiology, scientists could realistically be on the cusp of finding evidence for life far away from Earth — perhaps not intelligent life, but life, nonetheless. That’s why Weintraub thinks the rest of us should be prepared for the spiritual questions that will follow — and that astronomers should participate in that conversation, since the question “Is there life in the universe?” now belongs to the domain of science, not just philosophy.

….[H]e thinks it’s worth extending the thought experiment to consider how we would treat aliens of different faiths. Would we repeat the mistakes of European missionaries who converted the “heathens” of the New World to Christianity? Or would we adopt a policy that looks more like the no-interference “prime directive” of the “Star Trek” universe? Would sentient aliens have their own religions? Would they try to preach to us?….

 
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