The Case for Moral Nihilism

Does morality exist? What would it even mean to say that morality exists? And if morality does not exist, then how can there be moral progress (e.g., how can we say that it was moral progress to end slavery)? These are meta-ethical questions, in other words, not questions describing or prescribing what one ought to do, but questions concerning whether describing or prescribing what one ought to do is even coherent.  I will examine these questions, and more, in this post.

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Section 230: Should We Get Rid of it?

Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, known as the Communications Decency Act, contains the famous Section 230(c)(1), which consists of the 26 words that created the internet:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

You can see the full text of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 here (Section 230(c)(1) is on page 101). Why this is in the news lately is that a case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) may be deciding whether Section 230(c)(1) ought to be upheld or disposed (namely, in the cases Gonzalez v. Google, LLC and Taamneh v. Twitter, Inc.).

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Ukrainian War One Year Hence

It’s been about a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced. I wrote an article about the mounting tensions literally the day before Russian forces crossed the border (or, at least, the border as it was at the beginning of 2022). I made some predictions in that post, and a lot of digital ink has been spilled as people balkanized into pro-war and anti-war positions in the world outside Ukraine. Here is a bit of a retrospective on this unfortunate conflict.

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Effective Altruism, Consequentialism, and Longtermism

Since early November of 2022, when the cryptocurrency exchange FTX went bankrupt, there has been growing criticism of a movement for which Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF), founder and CEO of FTX, was a sort of mascot: effective altruism. Broadly speaking, this is the idea that people should take a rational approach to charitable efforts, rather than a sentimental approach. Empathy can lead us astray, appealing to our cognitive biases, like the availability heuristic, recency illusion, mere-exposure effect, the streetlight effect, and others. A touching story about a single person can move us to act better than any statistics about the suffering of millions. As such, instead of following our emotions, we should seek to get the most bang for our buck with our charitable efforts, i.e., save the most lives and do the most good with our donations of time, money, and resources. This means that the problems we address, and the means of addressing those problems, should be considered rationally and scientifically, going based on what the numbers tell us will do the most good, even if it doesn’t immediately give us that fuzzy feeling we achieve from helping the single person with the touching story. Since the downfall of SBF, this philosophy has garnered some criticism, often with what seems like more than a hint of schadenfreude.

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Quantum Computers, Shor’s Algorithm, and Post-Quantum Cryptography

Want to know how quantum computers really work? And why they can crack our best encryption systems? And how we might combat this? In this post, which is from a paper I wrote for a cybersecurity class where I went a bit above and beyond the assignment, I will go over these things. This post is long, but if you are interested in this, you might find it rewarding.

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Is Value Neutrality Possible?

Objectivity, also known as value neutrality or impartiality, is one of the highest ideals of science. The principle behind it is that science studies mind-independent reality, i.e., that which continues to exist even if no consciousness is there to perceive or think about it. This mind-independent reality is devoid of all values – there is no such thing as “good and bad” or “useful” or “beautiful” when it comes to, say, galaxy formation or evolution by natural selection. A major criticism of science levied by critical theory is that value neutrality is impossible, even if we are to take the assumption that mind-independent reality exists and that mind-independent reality is value neutral. As such, instead of blinding ourselves to the values and biases that are inextricable from science, we ought to import the “correct” values into science (e.g., feminist science).

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The Impossibility of a Successful Leftist Revolution

A hallmark of conspiratorial thinking is that even disconfirming evidence can be interpreted as confirming the theory. If, for instance, all evidence points to an election having been fair, the theorist will think “aha! That’s exactly what the nefarious conspirators would have us believe!” thus demonstrating, in their mind, the truth of the theory. The Marxist critique of ideology (which, in the Marxist sense, means that part of the superstructure in which ideas that legitimize the current economic order are engineered), and more particular the cynical ideology of Slavoj Žižek, appears to be just such a conspiracy theory.

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Should We Trust the Mainstream Media?

Can’t find original source, but I got this comic from here.

A recent Munk Debates in Toronto on November 30 examined the topic of whether or not the mainstream news media is trustworthy (the debate is titled “Be it resolved, don’t trust mainstream media”). Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi took the position that the mainstream media is not to be trusted while Malcolm Gladwell and Michelle Goldberg took the opposing position. You can read a transcript of the debate here. As debates usually go, nothing was really resolved, though an overwhelming majority of the audience seemed to favor the Murray-Taibbi position after the debate. As such, the question remains: should people trust the mainstream news media?

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Is Capitalism Evil?

Mark Fisher, the author of Capitalist Realism, famously said that “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Yet capitalism is also the bogeyman for a lot of people, especially on the left, though if you go far enough to the right there is a loss of faith in capitalism as well. Just like the libertarian capitalist acolytes can find any way to make all of society’s ills out to be the fault of the government, everyone else have come up with no shortage of ways to lay all our problems at the feet of capitalism. Such intoxicating clarity has aided in simplifying the world for a great many people. But is capitalism as evil as they say?

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How Well Was COVID19 Handled? What Should We Have Done Differently?

The COVID19 pandemic saturated the news for a good eighteen months or better. Lately we don’t hear much about it anymore. If topics jawed about by the usual talking heads are to be gauged, everyone is over the whole pandemic thing. Few places still require masks and few people still voluntarily wear them. This, of course, ignores the fact that, with some six-and-a-half million people dead as a result of COVID infection, and ten times that many who got it and lived, there are a good deal of people who had their lives changed dramatically and permanently as a result of the pandemic. But now that the virus is endemic in a seemingly less pathogenic variant, it is a topic that has taken leave of the rapidly shifting zeitgeist of our modern times. Now is the time for postmortems by commentators and historians. That’s what I’m about to do here (as a commentator, not a historian).

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Who is the Bigger Threat: the Right or the Left?

Here in the United States, the so-called “Red Wave” that was supposed to have crashed over our legislature and state offices on November 8, 2022 failed to transpire. Prior to the midterm election, grim warnings of rising fascism abounded. “Democracy itself”, we were repeatedly admonished, was going to be strangled by rightwing fanatics before it could die its natural death. Pair this with the dour tidings of Elon Musk purchasing Twitter and Kanye West spouting more of his increasingly deranged brand of asinine attention seeking, and the rhetoric from the left almost painted a picture of the U.S. teetering on the brink of madness, like Germany of 1933.

On the other side of the ledger, prognostications warning of the gathering whirlwind of Woke-ism and Marxism grew ever more vociferous. Schools and universities, we are warned, have been mutated and twisted into Marxist reeducation camps where children are corrupted and groomed by depraved deviants and insidious ideologues, all while leftwing censorious indignation furiously proliferates in every corner of the internet. The “Red Wave” was supposed to be a last-ditch bulwark against the rising red tide of Neo-Marxist totalitarianism. If these dire omens were to be believed, then one might be convinced that the U.S. is in the same precarious position as China in 1966.

But which of these grim narratives is true?

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American Democracy

In the United States, we have our midterm elections coming up on November 8, 2022. Both “sides” of the election (the conservative and right-leaning Republicans and the progressive and left-leaning Democrats) have an alarming number of people frothing at the mouth with vitriol toward their opposing side. The other side, both argue, are an existential threat to democracy. They’re not just wrong or misguided, but nefarious and cunning. They want to harm [insert group here, e.g., children or minorities]. This is the kind of political divisiveness that heralds an inevitable plunge into authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Here is the problem, though: both sides are not exactly wrong about their opponents.

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What is Authenticity?

Authenticity is a somewhat ambiguous term, and yet many believe it to be very important. People strive for their own authenticity while admiring it in others. In modern times, authenticity tends to mean something like “being who you actually are on the inside” in a way that clears away the corrosion of social expectations to reveal the perfect gem of our authentic selves. But is it really that simple? What does it even mean to find some hidden inner authentic self? Is this even a helpful way of conceptualizing authenticity?

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Sanctity and Purity

A few days ago I wrote a post about the origins and nature of morality where I talked a bit about the Moral Foundations Theory. The 5 + 1 moral foundations are care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, with liberty/oppression as a potential sixth. Jonathan Haidt, one of the progenitors of Moral Foundations Theory, says in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion that WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) cultures tend to rate care/harm and fairness/cheating high while downplaying, or even ignoring, the others (except perhaps liberty/oppression, if we include it). In his book, Haidt defends the other three of the main five foundations. But it has me wondering if abandoning them, primarily sanctity, is a good thing or not.

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