Friday, September 23, 2016

Same Sex Marriage and Children

Many opponents of same sex marriage use as their bedrock argument, the claim that the children of same sex relationships fair poorly when compared to those from stable, heterosexual marriages.  I do not think that is the case.  In the USA, the children of African-American couples fair more poorly than do the children of same sex relationships, as do the children of people having an income below US$25,000 a year  (Rosenfeld 2010).  In both cases the performance is significantly less than is the average for the children of heterosexual married couples (significant to the 99.9% level).  Yet we do not on that basis argue that the marriage act should be amended so as to forbid the marriage of African-Americans or of the relatively poor within our society.  The reason we do not apply a parallel argument to that used against same sex marriage, even though the evidence supporting the argument is stronger, is that we do not think that race or wealth are morally relevant criteria on which to make that distinction.  Not only that, we do not think that the comparatively poor outcomes for the children of African-American or impoverished couples are sufficient basis to make them distinct moral categories with respect to marriage.  I think we can be stronger than that.  For most of us, including me, we think it would be morally offensive to argue for a ban on the marriage African-American or impoverished couples on that basis.

It follows from that, and that for some people they consider the outcomes of children relevant to the same sex marriage debate that they have already included the moral distinctness with respect to marriage of same sex couples as a premise in their argument.  Had they not already included that distinction, then the evidence with regard to children would be as irrelevant as it is in the case of race or poverty.  So, rather than being an argument from the moral distinctness of same sex relationships when it comes to marriage (as it purports to be), the argument from the welfare of children already assumes its conclusion in it premises.  It acts as an apologia to reinforce prejudice rather than as a reason that stands on its own.

Why there are no good arguments against same sex marriage

"Just so you know, I think support for marriage equality is a no brainer. The argument that same-sex marriage contradicts the definition of marriage is obviously false. We do not react to as we do to phrases like "a perfectly round square".

Nor is true that we are overly keen to preserve traditions all traditions of marriage.  In the Western European tradition, it used to be that the tradition was that marriage required no consent. It used to be that marriage could be solemnized with children as young as 12. It used to be that on marriage, women lost all legal standing. It used to be that on marriage, all of a woman's property became legally her husbands. It used to be that on marriage, a woman could not dissent from sex with her husband, so that if he forced her, it was not legally rape. All of these traditions (with there associated traditional definition of what marriage involved) we have been glad to get rid of as frankly immoral. That we should now further depart from the traditional Western European custom to, IMO, amend a grave, immoral restriction is no more troubling than that we no longer consider marital rape acceptable in law and custom. Certainly, the argument that we should preserve that tradition because it is the tradition fails in the face of these repeated amendments of what was involved, by law and tradition, in marriage.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Convention and ethics

Mathematics is a convention, but not an arbitrary convention. You cannot make a coherent mathematics in which the Peano axioms of arithmatic do not exist, or fail to define the natural numbers, addition, subtraction , multiplication and division. Likewise, ethics is just convention, but not arbitrary convention. Specifically, you cannot have a fully rational ethic in which it is acceptable to treat people as purely means to ends, or to consider their needs and desires fundamentally less important than your own. It follows that rape is wrong in any truly rational ethical convention, as is murder, and even dishonesty. Evil is just the persistent choice of an irrational ethical convention for your personal convenience, or perhaps for that of an ideology you hold. It is like insisting that 1+1 = 0 when adding up what you owe to others, but that 1+1=3 when adding up what others owe to you.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, November 14th, 2015

The attacks on Paris are horrific, and evil.  There is no question about that.  They also greatly sadden anybody with human sympathy, including me.  I cannot express how sad they make me.

Part of me thinks, and I am sure many others completely believe, that the Parisians are entitled to their grief ... that what they should here from the world now is sympathy - not little notes giving a wider context.  Those posts could be viewed as downplaying the tragedy, or (worse still) exploiting it to make political points.

Thought part of me thinks that, however, I recognize that it is a short sighted view.  We live in a world filled with tragedies, mostly unacknowledged.  If I love my neighbour as myself, then surely I must love Syrians as much as Parisians - yet Syria has experienced the equivalent of 10 Paris attacks over the month of October alone (counting just civilian deaths).  If the 14th of November was a great human tragedy in Paris (as it undoubtedly was), then October 2015 was ten times the tragedy in Syria - as was the month before, and the month before that, for five years now.

If I ignore the manifold tragedy in Syria out of sympathy for Parisians - I reject the golden rule and the ethic which underlies it.  If I do that, I turn my sympathy into mere tribalism, on which basis I have no basis to reject the views of those who delighted in 9/11, or who have no sympathy for the Parisians.  Paris deserves better than that, and so do the Syrians.

On that basis I also reject the view that Paris shows we should not provide shelter to Syrian refugees.  On the contrary, while it may show a need to upgrade security measures, our common sympathy for human kind means that Paris brings home to us the prolonged tragedy of the Syrian war, and should increase our sympathy for its victims, and our willingness to give them a place of refuge from that war.

The civilian death toll
Syrian Government 793
Russian Forces 263
Kurdish Forces 10
Al Nusra 1
Armed Opposition 45
Unidentified Groups 50
Total  1215

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Hoax e-mails about Centrelink benefits

The following was posted on Face Book by my sister Kathleen.  The block quoted section is copy and pasted from the "A Just Australia" website, which provides an exhaustive set of links to Centerlink payment rates, verifying the claims.  I will note that while the hoax emails may be passed on in ignorance, they are started because of racism.  Anybody wanting to have a legitimate debate about Australia's refuge intake would not resort to such easily falsified lies.

Friday, September 18, 2015


FWIW, although I disagree on specific policy positions based on my own analysis, my political sentiment is broadly the same as that found in the Green Left Weekly that my cousin helped found.  More specifically, I am what I call a democratic, market socialist.  

Democratic because it is the only political system compatible the moral principle that you should always only act as though people were ends in themselves, and never merely means to an end, which I consider fundamental to ethics.   On that basis I consider the US very imperfectly democratic, primarily due to the undue influence from campaign funding, but also due to some peculiarities of the constitution.  On the same basis I would strongly support reforming the General Assembly so that each nation had a number of its seats proportional to the population to which it gives the vote (such that, for example, if they deny votes to women, they halve their number of seats), and were the representatives are directly elected, along with other democratizing reforms for the Security Council.

Socialist because I believe radical title to all property rests with the people, and more formally with the government acting on the peoples behalf; and that the rights accruing from that radical title (including the right to regulate and tax) should be excercised on behalf of the people generally rather than on behalf of special interest groups.

Market because I accept that to the most part, a free market is the most efficient distributor of goods where 'free market' is implicitly defined by the fundamental argument to that effect, and therefore requires:
  1. No coercion, including no coercion resulting from the pressure to make trade on disadvantaged terms due to declining economic circumstances;
  2. Perfect knowledge of the outcomes;
  3. Perfect competition, in the sense that anybody making a trade has at the time of the trade an infinite number of alternate trades with marginally different properties in respect to all aspects of the trade; and
  4. No negative externalities.
The argument presented by capitalists that markets are the most efficient form of distribution of goods (where efficiency is defined as Pareto Optimality) assumes these conditions, and therefore they are the implicit requirements that a market be 'free' as assumed in their arguments.  It is blindingly obvious that unregulated markets are not always, indeed are not typically free in this sense.  IMO, the principle economic role of governments is to regulate with a light touch to ensure that markets are as 'free' as possible (using my special definition of 'free').  Further, it is evident that 'pareto optimality' is not the same as a maximum utility outcome, and hence not the desired policy outcome for any government working 'for the people'.  Specifically, income disparities decrease the utility function of a market outcome; so governments should also work to decrease income disparities, and to increase individual control of economic activity.

On top of all the above, I am a conservative in the original sense that I believe that change should be implemented gradually, except where it must be made with the utmost urgency.  That is because the more rapid the change, the more harmful side effects, and also the greater probability the outcome will not be the intended outcome.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On role playing elves

Those who know me best know that no body of fiction has captured my imagination as have the works of J.R.R.Tolkien.  As part of that, I have thought about, and roleplayed at various times different elves, including the elf, Cutholen on Lord of The Rings, Online (LOTRO) during which times I was a member of the Tinnu uin galadhrim, a group who were excellent company.  As part of that group, I once wrote on what is involved in roleplaying elves.  The post, I think, helps understand what makes elves different to humans - or at least some of it.  I wrote: