Hedonism and the Experience Machine

Machine

You may or may not have encountered the philosophy of Hedonism and the major counter-argument against it. I will dare to venture my own summary, in case that you have never heard of either, followed by a humble challenge to the experience machine theory.

In a nutshell, Hedonism is based on the view that the only thing that is intrinsically valuable is happiness (= pleasure) and unhappiness (= pain) is the only intrinsically bad thing. On the other side of the argument stands the theory of the experience machine brought about by Robert Nozick. Imagine a machine that is capable of providing us with the most pleasurable experiences for the duration of two years without any memory of being outside of the machine. After the two years one would get out of the tank and select new experiences. This experiment was designed to demonstrate that the artificial experiences are not as desirable as actually doing the things that are experienced. In support of the this experiment Nozick forwards three basic reasons for why we might not want to hop in the tank and plug in right away. Firstly, we would not want to plug in, because we want to actually do things, not just experience them. Secondly, we should not plug in, because we want to be a certain way, i.e. we want to be a “self”, not just an indeterminate blob. Thirdly, we ought not to plug in, because the machine limits us to a man-made reality and we want a contact to a deeper reality. Thus, we desire to live ourselves and in contact with reality.

The experience machine does not disapprove Hedonism. My effort will now aim at presenting two ways Hedonism can throw a wrench in the experience machine. Hedonism never forgets to emphasize that living a good life is experiencing the greatest pleasure/happiness in the skin of the one who lives it. The conclusion that the life in an experience machine is inferior to real life is based on an experience of an outsider who has the perspective necessary for making such judgment. Being in the skin of the one who experiences, we would have no such external framework since, as the scenario itself points out, we would have no memories. Our entire sense of identity and personality is established through memories. Without memories we are no one. The research in psychology has yet to conclusively prove an existence of any innate personality and even if it does manage to prove it, the ingrained basic personality traits would not be enough to allow us to cast judgment on the nature of our being and our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with it. If the person in the machine has no memory of the time outside the machine then this person cannot judge the difference between experiencing and doing or between this state of “self” or another. The only way the person could recognize that what is being experienced is not the reality is somewhat emotionally through the lack of some sense of deeper reality as Nozick puts it. This would, however, require an objective reality of the divine that pulls us towards itself in order to feel the lack of it in ourselves. Unless we wish to affirm the objective reality of a divine subject, we cannot accept the argument. To sum up, the arguments of human need for doing and having a “self” and connecting to some deeper reality are unsound due to the simple fact that the person in the tank would be lacking the memories needed to make such judgments. To that person, the experience is perfectly real since that is all that there is and all that there has ever been.

The second argument by which we could counterattack the experience machine is the same argument that was used against the false happiness challenge to Hedonism. It has been stated that if we have two women leading equally happy lives believing that their husbands are faithful to them, but only one of them is right in here belief, the other one is experiencing false happiness. The critics of Hedonism would suggest that the happiness of this falsely happy women is lesser than the happiness of the rightly happy woman. This, however, is again an argument from the position of knowledge and an outside perspective. It is surely logical to assume that something we have no idea about cannot make us unhappy. In fact, both women are experiencing equal amount of happiness, regardless of the objective truth. Therefore, even if we are to accept that the happiness provided by the experience machine is lesser in some respect, the argument itself poses no threat to the essence of Hedonism. Since the person in the tank is, in fact, in the tank and lacking all memories of the previous life, the person is experiencing the same false happiness as the falsely happy woman in the previous scenario. Objectively, their situation is inferior, but the path to a good life, according to Hedonism, is not governed by an objective reality, but a subjective experience.

Nozick’s theory is surely magnificent, but it is suffering from misunderstanding the real nature of Hedonism. The truth is that Hedonism does not have the answer for universal happiness, perfect justice or anything beyond the frontiers of our egos. However, its default position is surely nothing if not pragmatic. Leading a good life is a matter of our subjective realities, not a universal morality. Is that a perfectly acceptable moral argument? Probably not, but again, that is what it is all about.

 

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Co znamená výsledek Moore vs Jones

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Minulé úterý jsme byli svědky vyvrcholení několika měsíců hádek a osočování v centru Republikánského jihu USA. Jednalo se o speciální volby o místo senátora za stát Alabama a proti sobě stáli dva kandidáti, každý se svým šarmem.

Na straně Republikánů stál Roy Moore, který doposud vedl velmi barvitou kariéru. Mezi jeho “úspěchy” můžeme jistě počítat to, že byl dvakrát zbaven svého místa soudce nejvyššího soudu Alabamy (v USA jsou tyto pozice volené stejně jako místa v Kongresu) a jeho dalšími “cnostmi” byly mnohé homofobní, trasnfobní, anti-semitické,  islamofobní a rasistické výroky. To by ale pro silně nábožensky motivované voličstvo nebyl takový problém, jenže proti němu stál někdo daleko horší. Demokrat. Se svou kariérou jako federální státní zástupce, který pracoval na mnoha rasově motivovaných zločinech, volit Douga Jonese by bylo prostě hanba v myslích mnoha cnostných Alabamanů.

Co nakonec pohnulo Alabamou byly další barvité a skandální obvinění ze sexuálního obtěžování mladých dívek v sedmdesátých letech. Nejhorší obvinění ze všech bylo od dívky, které v té době bylo pouhých 14 let a Roy Moorovi teprve přes 3O. Ničemu nepomohlo, že si svou nynější manželku vytipoval při školním představení (pričemž nebylo vlastně nikdy vyjasněno proč u toho představení vlastně byl), když jí bylo pouhých 16 let. Jak jsme ale slyšeli, Doug Jones je prostě Demokrat a přes to nejede vlak.

Do posledních momentů nebylo jasné kdo vlastně vyhraje a Republikánská strana se nejprve distancovala od Moorovy kapaně, ale nakonec stejně nutné peníze poskytla, přes odpor několika prominentních členů jako lídr Republikánské většiny v Senátu Mitch McConnell. Demokrat Doug Jones nakonec dokázal vyhrát se svou nečekaně velkou většinou (49.9% vs 48.4%). Problém ale pro Republikány zůstává.

Již nekolik měsíců se Republikánská strana zmítá v mytickém zápasu Titánů se sebou samou. Přestože v USA momentálně vládne Republikánský prezident a strana kontroluje obě komory Konresu, zatím (po deseti měsících) neprošel jediný významný zákon, protože radikální libertarianské křídlo se neshodne s umírněným křídlem a Prezident má svůj vlastní handicap, jímž je jeho vlastní neschopnost. Kongres právě stojí před důlžitým finálním hlasováním o novém daňovém zákoně, který povede (jako už tradičně) ke snižování daní a masivní explozi deficitu. Nesmíme zapomínat, že ačkoliv zvyšování deficitu nezní velmi konzervativně, je to pouhý první krok Republikánského plánu. Nejdříve se musí deficit zvýšit, aby se mohly škrtnout sociální dávky a takové nepotřebné věci jako školství a zdravotnictví, čímž se deficit zase sníží a všechno bude jak má být. Odpor voličů samozrejmě povede ke zvolení Demokratů, kteří daně zase zvednou, což je vždy velmi nepopulární, a po pár letech prosperity a nechutných regulačních přehmatech Demokratů bude zase čas na tolik potřebné Republikánské škrty.

Problémem v této Republikánské idilce je že přítomnost neschopnosti pana Prezidenta Trumpa a jeho obecné nepopularitě potápí Republikánskou loď mnohem rychleji než by bylo třeba. Nový daňový zákon je už tak pohý jeden hlas od neschválení a nový Demokratický senátor Jones určitě ničemu nepomůže. Je třeba říci, že od svého zvolení Prezident Trump podpořil několik kandidátů na různá místa v Kongresu a všichni své volby prohráli. Republikánská strana si tedy může pouze vybrat ze tří možností. Mohou dále předstírat, že vše je jak má být a podporovat všechny lži které plynou z Bílého Domu, nebo se mohou od Prezidenta distancovat a rovnou přijít o aspoň 30% voličstva, nebo mohou pokračovat jako rozštěpená strana neschopná své legislativní práce. V každém případě volby Moore vs Jones ukázaly, že každá z těchto možností má více než dost potenciálu potopit celou stranu v kritických volbách příští rok. Pokud Demokraté znovu ovládnou obě komory Kongresu v roce 2018 tak určitě nebudou váhat s odsrtaněním všeho co Trump “dokázal” za poslední rok a jistě také uvidíme rychlý pokus o jeho odstranění z funkce. V cestě jim stojí, již tradičně, pouze jejich vlastní neschopnost (která sahá výše než slavný Washingtonský monument).

On Answering the Female Question

The decision on whether to write this article or not has not been easy. Why would one want jump in hot water headfirst, is what I have been asking myself for some time now. In the light of the recent scandals in the United States and conversations with my friends here in Aberdeen, I think there are things that need to be said, for better or worse.

There are many issues swirling around the female gender and its relationship with other genders. From such a simple thing as equal pay to much more complex topics as abortion. We like to think that we believe in equality among genders, races and all sexual orientations, but not in one place on the planet are women treated equally with men. There are places that have come pretty close, but no country has yet achieved full equality even on the simplest of these issues as equal pay. I am not going to point fingers at those whose fault it is, but we can all agree that our world is far from equal.

To put it bluntly, I am absolutely convinced that men have no say in what a woman should or should not do with her body or, in fact, what any other gender should or should not do. If we ever want to even hope to create the equal world of our dreams, it must be accepted as a simple fact that a person’s body is under full sovereignty of the person alone. Let’s apply this concept to the issue of abortion. I have had friends tell me that getting an abortion is not just the woman’s decision, but the man should have say in the matter as well. Well, I have been thinking on this for a while, but I still cannot wrap my head around the enormous arrogance of claiming that right. You might want to say that man’s genetic material is an important part of what is being put together here, but to that I can only say that at the moment of intercourse, men are simply handing that over and from that point on, it is a matter for the woman. Just as if you got a kidney transplant, you would consider the kidney to be yours and you would not let the donor make decisions about your body.

The rights of the potential fetus are another difficult aspect of this debate. Some may see it as fully fledged life and others do not, but the question is: who gets to decide its fate? Although it might not be the right question to ask. Who will be responsible for the well-being of the fetus for the months following conception? Who will be there to suffer through all that birth entails? Who bears all the risks to one’s health that go hand in hand with pregnancy? Who will be the most important person in the child’s life for months, if not years, after birth? The person who fits the above-mentioned criteria is the person who should have a say in what a woman should or should not do with her body.

I do see the irony of me saying this, as I am a man myself, but as a man I do not want to have others tell me what I should do with my body, whom I should love and how I should live my life. Should we not then afford women the same liberties that we give to ourselves? Quite simply, women’s issues belong to women to deal with. If we cannot understand that simple fact, we will never live in an equal world.

 

Should history be rewritten in line with modern day views of human rights?

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All of history is an interpretation of chronology. Only the most simple of all chronologic charts provide us with an objective account of what happened. Any attempt at explanation of those facts is essentially changing them and that is part of our human nature in a way that accepting cold facts is not. Sometimes history is rewritten with evil intent and the other times it was simply necessary. History should not be rewritten, but it is simply impossible not to do so. In order to retain the stature of the great men of old, we give them a face-lift and forget about the details. People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are the marble columns supporting our ideals and without their image; the house would crumble.

From the very dawn of time of the western civilization, we have not shied away from manipulating history for our purposes. The glorious verses of Homer and Hesiod were considered factual for quite some time and did the fictitious Aeschylus not complain that his opponent Euripides debauched the hearts of men by writing lousy characters in “The Frogs” by Aristophanes? The Poets wrote history precisely to serve reasons that they considered noble and they were not alone. In “The Republic”, Plato paints a picture of an ideal city where so-called bad stories displaying the vices of gods should be left out in order to build a perfect character in the city’s guardians. Those men laid the foundation of our civilization and it could be said that other civilizations might not have developed in the same way, but sadly there is enough evidence to say that they did.

Several millennia ago in China, it was a stroke of genius and a fatal self-inflicted wound when the Zhou dynasty usurped the mandate to rule from their predecessors and rewrote all of history in their image. They won the battle, but lost the war, because just a few hundred years later they were the ones to be written out of history. The power stemming from being in control of history, however, demonstrates itself even in less advanced societies. The Aboriginal tribes of Australia live with a profound connection with their land. They possess no literature of the kind we know and yet they live surrounded by the stories of their past, written in the landscape of their land and soul. We have been told very little about their past, because in their world such knowledge is reserved for the oldest and wisest and we are nothing but infants in their eyes. What they tell us is not what they tell themselves. In a way, they are writing their history for us the way they wish us to see it.

All regimes, cultures and peoples write, change and reshape their history. They have various reasons for doing so. Some were doing it to influence the actions of the men of the future. Others did it to justify their right to rule. We do it to hide the uncomfortable truth. Some of the great men were despicable slave-owners who never relinquished their vice, nevertheless, our house of virtue will not stand without their support, therefore we chose not to look too closely. How is that different from the Nazi book burnings, Soviet purges or even the work of the inquisition? Morality aside, it is not different at all. We should never rewrite our history, but we do it regardless.

The Age of Trump: For Better or Worse

Trump

Has anyone built a time machine yet? No? Well, then I guess we will just have to stop whining for once and deal with the now. Orange is the new reality. Some may still put faith in the US Constitution and the 25th Amendment that could rid us of the menace and others hope for swift impeachment stemming from the Russia probe. Neither is very likely to happen any time soon or ever, for that matter. To be honest, would the alternative really be that much better? Were Donald Trump to fall in a coma or impeached, the Vice President Pence would get a shot at his gay-bashing, Hawthornean Scarlet Letter-like utopia and unlike President Trump, President Pence would be more than capable of implementing his policies. It is time to stop crying havoc, acknowledge the reality and make the best of it. Although most people might not realize it, there are actually some areas where the Trump presidency is actually being helpful.

The first such issue is North Korea. Before the age of Trump we had had eight years of cautious Obama policies. That was akin to trying to tame the tiger with sugar. The Korean tiger, however, needs a lot more than that. It is now time for the stick, but we are faced with the problematic fact that North Koreans do not trust the United States anymore. Not since the Bush era when the US last reneged on their deals with them. Trump is right to realize that the stick must come from a different place and that place is China. China is the true addressee of the inflammatory speeches and erratic behavior strategy. The language used is the only language North Korea understands. They live off making threats and using them as leverage during the eventual talks, but keep in mind that nobody in South Korea worries about their neighbor. They see through the charade and so should we. China is the key to this treasure box and the Trump strategy is working, since, for the first time, we are seeing a real progress on their side.

The president has a way of stating the obvious in the most insulting manner we can imagine and that tends to obscure the grain of truth in it, but it is there nevertheless. On the European front his comments have had a tremendous positive impact. In particular, it was the comment about NATO being obsolete. Let’s face it. The way it is, it is obsolete. Europe is rich, powerful and we have been slipping, leaving our defense in the American hands. Is it not finally the time to band together and build a secure Europe, defended by Europeans and paid for by European money? Whether he meant it so or not, his infuriating comments have pushed European countries to do a better job at upholding their financial commitments to NATO and the good old idea of a European army has been raised from the dead. Hopefully, it will lead the European Commission, headed by President Junker at the moment, to focus on more ambitious issues than improving European Wi-Fi availability.

Domestically, President Trump is taking a lot of flak and rightfully so, but let’s also look at the silver lining of his actions. The efforts to destroy Obama care have made the proud nation to realize that healthcare is kind of important. Due to the failed Republican efforts we also know that 35% of Americans did not know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing. They do know now and they happen to like it. Donald Trump has made it harder for the Republican Party to quietly do away with the basic human right that healthcare is. His blistering rhetoric has had an undeniable effect of uniting the people, even if they unite on the other side of the barricade.

The man is a veritable mirror to the society embodied. Every issue we have and every problem we chose not to talk about is alive within him. Love him or hate him, but take him seriously, because whining about the things we do not like has never helped us bring the world a better tomorrow. The age of Trump is the age of change and change hurts. Sure, we were quite content with the way things were, but the sad truth is that we got lazy and took our eyes off the ball. The usual result of me taking my eyes off the ball is getting hit with it right in the face and I am convinced that Trump is the ball in our faces. We may not like it and we may even curse at it, but, one way or another, we needed it.

A New Reality in the Land of Milk and Honey

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The status quo is dead and long live the new reality. The Czech republic has gone through elections again and it is now time to assess the result. I did expect an apocalypse either way, but as elections go, I ended up being surprised anyway. If central European politics is not your strong suit (I cannot blame you, really), I should probably catch you up on what has happened thus far.

The Czech republic has undergone nearly five years under an equally unholy and incompetent alliance between the Social-democrats and the Populists led by Andrej Babiš, the food tycoon and a millionaire who served as the finance minister until recently. The embarrassing results of the socialist-populist rule are probably best illustrated by the election performance of the Social-democrats. They have gone from nearly 20.45% and control over the position of the Prime Minister in the government in the previous elections to barely 7.27%. In addition, in the months leading up to the elections, Mr. Babiš, the leader and the embodiment of populism, has been under attack for a myriad of highly suspicious corruption affairs.

In this congenial, back-stabbing atmosphere, the Czech voters went to cast their votes and gave nearly 29.64% to the Populists. That is not surprising, but fortunately it is just short of the number needed for creating a stable, one-party government. The Populists will need to build a coalition, but unfortunately for them, their leader is widely despised among the other parties. I think it is quite telling when even the far right and the anarchist parties refuse to collaborate. Each of which have received 10.64% and 7.76% respectively (which is shocking in itself).

Mr. Babiš has very few options left, but his world is not entirely bleak. The crybaby he is, his best choice would be to complain about the unfairness of the other boys and girls at the playground until new elections may be declared. As my kind words may betray, I am in fact a member of the conservative ODS party that has had a surprisingly good result as well. In the past we made some mistakes and we rightfully lost the mandate, but after years of reflection and restructuring the Czech voters have finally decided that it is time for us to come back.

I would not imagine in my wildest dreams that the Conservative party would receive 11.32% and thus become the second strongest party in the parliament. As Mr. Babiš has professed, he would just love to join forces with the Conservatives and rule in a happy coalition, but such an abhorrent alliance is definitely out of the question from our point of view.

The path is clear. Mr. Babiš will not be able to compose a government in the 30 days allocated to him by the president. If that is the case, then the next in line for a shot at creating a government is the Conservative party, as the party with the second strongest result. It will be difficult, because a coalition with the far-right or the Communists is out of the question. That would leave a some kind of a broad coalition between the Conservatives, Anarchists, Christian-democrats and a few other small right-leaning parties.

The Populists have won this battle, but they may yet lose the war. The right should do its best to ostracize them out of ruling for the good of the nation. As the universal hatred of Mr. Babiš among all parties suggests, all actors are painfully aware of what horror would his rule be. That might just make the impossible possible and facilitate a broad and stable coalition. The future of the country is at stake. Mr. Babiš, you say you want a “better country”. Well, we want it too, but it is a country without you.

Populism and Human Rights

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Hi everyone,

this week I would like to look at an issue that is becoming increasingly important and yet it is often overlooked. We all know that populism has been given a new lease of life around the globe and we also know that there are abusers of human rigts as well, but what has not been particularly emphasized is the new trade-off between these two problems. For simplicity, I would like to point out three starkest examples of that happening right now.

Firstly, Donald Trump, probably the most infamous populist demagogue right now, has gained significant traction, even with those most recent gaffes. The Donald’s main idea ( I really cannot stop thinking about Donald the Duck whenever he is mentioned, the resemblance is striking) is establishing law & order (i’ll let this one go) by doing some pretty unorthodox things like establishing surveilance and bans on certain communities. He has also been advocating for waterbording and murders of famillies affiliated with terrorists.

Secondly, there is the great ‘Punisher’ of Philippines Rodrigo Duterte. President Duterte has sadly been recently elected into office and to his honor he has started doing what he promissed during the elections. More precisely he gave free rein to police to shoot all the criminals if they resist and enacted several other dubious policies. Needless to say that the body count has been quite high and the responsibility for these killings has been also claimed by vigilanties as well as the police.

Thirdly, we have Turkey (Not the sandwich) (I admit that is a horrible joke, but I just can’t help it ! Again). President Erdogan has been on a rampage ever since the attempted coup. Reportedly there have been purges of about 60’000 state employees, including teachers and judges as well as millitary officers. In the latest episodes of the Erdogan show he started haggling with Europe over the refugee agreements that have been so hard to negotiate in the first place.

All these men have something in common. They propagate the idea of public order and acting as strongmen. While on one hand, these policies could achieve their goals, it seems that none of it would be achieved without persecution and violating human right. Whether it is Trump’s waterboarding, Duterte’s shoot-to-kill policy or Edogan’s jailing journalists, there are some human and civil rights undeniably being trampled upon. The strongman’s argument is that you cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs. I have recently had a chance to talk to a Duterte’s supporter and he was no evil guy. He was an inteligent young man who was wery concerned with the state of corruption and raging drug wars in his country. In his lifetime he hasn’t seen the system working at anytime and he had a sincere hope that under Duterte’s strong words lies genuine concern for the country, just like the one he has. I, personally, understand that view and sincerely hope he is right, but my beef is with the fact that this supporter, just like supporters of the other two stars of this world sociopath show, believes that violating human and civil rights ‘a little’ is fine as long as you have the right goal in mind. They would prefer not having to do that, but they also believe it is the neccessary evil.

I, for once, completely reject that view. Violating human rights in any way is criminal, even if your ultimate goal is world peace. That same logic could be applied to war criminals after all. They oftern believe in what is the best for their country from their point of view and yet we hang all war criminals anyway. Even if Duterte’s policies are successful he should be facing international condemnation and criminal charges, because we should once and for all decide that the goals do not justify the means. Too many leaders on too many occasions in the past had our best interests in mind and yet it became a disaster. The mark of the 21st century should be that human rights are universal and untouchable and those who trample upon them should face the same charges as criminals do, because that is how we stop the history from repeating itself.

Unfortunatelly, many around the globe do not really see that point and bond themselves to people who violate human rights. The starkest example has been the disgusting behaviour of the European Union towards Turkey. For years we have been ignoring Erdogan’s excesses, because criticising him could damage our own interests. Also it seems that the US has even stronger stomach than Europe and that the Cold War politics of supporting whoever supports us is far from dead.

If we want to live in a peaceful world, we as standard-bearers of democracy, universal values and peace should not be flapping in the wind, but defend our principles and not trade them for our own benefits. At times like these I always think about what one captured terrorist told the CIA during his debriefing. Essentially he said that while we feel moraly superior, to the rest of the world we are the Empire and they are Luke and Han. No wonder that the US has been voted the biggest threat to the world peace just recently.

Michael

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