Are people interested in something like this? Would it be better for it to start soonish (february), or would the summer be better? Do people have suggestions for others films they’d like to have shown?
CHOMSKY: Rawls’s “difference principle” is reasonable, but hardly a theory. Other moral principles are reasonable too: e.g., the principle of universality that underlies all of “just war theory”: if something is right (or wrong) for us, it’s right (or wrong) for others. It follows that if it’s wrong for Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, and a long list of others to bomb Washington and New York, then it’s wrong for Rumsfeld to bomb Afghanistan (on much flimsier pretexts), and he should be brought before war crimes trials. Again, the principle of universality is not a “theory.” Just moral truism.
What’s the source of such moral truisms? We don’t know much more than David Hume did 250 years ago when he pointed out that our moral judgments are so rich and complex, and apply so readily to new cases, that they must derive from some fixed principles, and since we cannot acquire these from experience, they must be part of our nature (14). Rather like language. Or any other structure or capacity of an organism. To find out what these principles are, however, is a very hard task, and there has been very little progress, beyond rather elementary observations. That’s why I don’t cite moral theory. It is so lacking in depth or confirmation or argument that it doesn’t help very much, except in simple cases like the one I mentioned about bringing Rumsfeld to war crimes trials — unless he and the deep thinkers he brought to Washington really do think that the countries I mentioned, and many others, ought to be bombing Washington and New York.
If we want to pursue the matter further, we have to consider the fact that even if the fundamental principles of human moral nature that Hume sought were known, there would still appear to be another question: are they right, in some other sense? That’s a hard question; arises elsewhere too, e.g., in epistemology. Worth thinking about, but we should bear in mind that all of this is utterly remote from any application to human affairs. For that, elementary truisms carry us rather far, which is why they are almost always ignored, as in the single case I mentioned.As to the function of the debate on “just war,” I think you have the answer right before you. Can you find anything in the literature on this topic, now quite rich, that suggests that we should adhere to the most elementary principle of just war theory — universality — and apply it in the real world? I can’t think of an example. If so, we conclude that it is all some kind of apologetics for atrocities. That seems to follow rather clearly, unless the issue is engaged — and I think you’ll find that it isn’t.
From a 2004 interview “On Terrorism”
This echoes most of my complaints about 20th century ethics – its arbitrary. Ethics ends with Hegel, I think. Hegel’s ethics passes the “it matters even if the rich don’t respect what’s right” test – because rights exist independently of their recognition. Furthermore, it follows from the nature of the human being – someone can be deemed incorrect if they are unjust. I’m sure Chomsky isn’t a Hegelian, but I think his overall point is that Ethics can’t seriously be divided from the question of the human.
This British coverage calls into question many assumptions western newspapers are making about the relief effort. Especially of interest is an interview with a former Haitian defense minister.
I went to a talk yesterday in the Fine Arts department about the role of Art in the development of sustainable lifestyles. The talk was given by Benn Todd – the president of the Arcola theatre in East London, and the topic was basically what that theatre does, its history, and its future. Todd is quite an interesting character – trained as an engineer, and worked on a project to turn waste biomass into carbon-neutral electricity. He left the profession when he realized that what we lack are not solutions, but the demand for solutions – what’s the use in perfecting a technology which is already basically working, when what truly makes it un-viable is a lack of demand, not a lack of development.
What really struck me about the talk is that, for an Engineer, he was quite good at not getting caught up with the primary effects of actions. He believes strongly that we can’t deal with climate change with facts and technologies – we need a cultural shift. The example of smoking is enlightening – the facts about smoking have been known for decades, but strong declines in smoking seem to be motivated not by rational knowledge about its ill health effects, but by its becoming un-socially acceptable. Todd quit smoking the day the U.K. banned it in pubs. It’s hard to know what motivates cultural shifts – but Todd figures it isn’t crazy to think the cultural elite have something to do with it. So, taking over Arcola, he didn’t start putting plays about sustainability – rather the emphasis was on putting out first rate theatre productions, run sustainably.
One of Arcola’s big things is fuel cells – they run all the lighting in their cafe/bar on a fuel cell, and they run the lights of their shows on a fuel cell. Todd is very up front that using a fuel cell does not directly lower their carbon footprint – the hydrogen after all is made out of methane, and the whole procedure probably would have produced more power per carbon released if it had been burnt at the power plant. However, since the fuel cells are only 5kw, running on fuel cell forces the lighting in the cafe-bar to be extremely energy efficient, which at least in the summer, reduces overall energy consumption. More importantly, however, the production lighting runs on a fuel cell – this requires the productions to be lit on 5 thousand watts – a paltry amount. To run on such a small amount of power they use LED theatre lighting – they basically pioneered this against a theatre industry that insists on the colour rendition of tungsten light. But they’ve also run shows on fluorescent and tungsten light, still limited to 5k watts. Of course, they could just make a rule that they will be limited to 5 thousand watts and not use a fuel cell – but this would ignore the central secondary benefit of doing things low-energy – it’s a source of excitement for the community, it’s a source of free advertising, and using a fuel cell shows to others what is possible more loudly than facts. They are also involved in community theatre, and they have space for technological development in their building as well. Once a month they host something called “Green Sunday”, which is a kind of monthly conference / seminar / community workshop on sustainability.
It’s a mistake to think that even if Arcola can spur a revolution in theatre lighting, that this would be significant in itself – the total power consumption of Arts in the U.K. is simply not big enough to make a difference. However, it’s a very visible quarter, and making changes here first shows what is possible. This emphasis on the cultural shift as the primary goal, with energy-efficiency and new-technologies as derivative, preliminary goals, is what excites me about Arcola’s approach. It’s impossible to know how to effect a cultural shift – it might be a mistake to think you can “effect” one at all, but it is possible to try to work towards it as a goal.
This footage really interests me. It’s beautiful, it’s long, it’s continuous. It’s over 7 hours long. It’s been made available for free, under a creative commons license. Now, I tend to have simple ideas, or at least ideas which don’t require a lot of work – and my idea here is to display it as a continuous art piece. Ideally, it would be on a wall, in an electronic photo frame, playing in a loop.
Principle (classical liberalism) – no one should work on command. Who is “one” – humans capable of mutual recognition, moral conflict, ethical life.
Animals are more free (with respect to each other) than a human incapable of mutual recognition. Freedom is not ability to carry out my contingent desires (Mill), but rather ability to recognize another’s ability to carry out his or her contingent desires – and modify one’s desires or actions according to the needs of living together.
It might be morally acceptable to enslave a human which has inner life but no social recognition because they would be incapable of differentiating between working out of their own will and working on command – because they cannot recognize an external stimulus as a command (as the will of another).
Whether or not an animal can be morally enslaved hinges on this point – can they recognize command as command?
Regardless of the technical aspect of enslaving, in all cases we have duty to treat sentient beings’ sentience as morally relevant. However, this does not mean we cannot act in such a way as any sentient being might suffer. Rather, we need to consider such suffering on a par with human suffering.
Even if a being has inner life and freewill, there is no duty to treat beings also as ends in themselves if they cannot recognize another as having free will. Treating another as an end in itself means traeting them as the kind of being that can have themselves (as a moral being) as the end of their actions – but a being incapable of mutual recongition is incapable of moral action, and thus can not have themselves as their own end.
Inspired by a film Milan made about his bus trip, I made my own travel films during my cross Canada journey on the train. It isn’t very good, but, it is at least quite long. There is quite a lot of footage of scenery, as well as self-interviews – which don’t make very much sense. On the upside, it probably gives quite a good idea of what it is like to be on the train.