Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Deborah Nucatola and the moral sense.

Humans have an innate moral sense, that transcends religion, or culture, or education. We (most of us) are born with it. This is not up for debate; it's the conclusion of thousands of scientifc studies. Deny it, and you're equivalent to a creationist or denier of global warming.

Two very important parts of the moral sense are protectiveness towards babies and children, and a sense of disgust and fear of contamination. (There is an actual scientific debate about whether the latter two are separate.) Our protectiveness towards children is very much an evolutionary product of our being social animals. It's triggered by big eyes, big heads, small bodies, etc.. For example, in contrast to us, male lions slaughter the offspring of other male lions. As any biologist will tell you, there's little difference between a 22-week fetus and a newborn anyway; a breathing reflex, perhaps, and a change in blood flow that happens on birth. But, more innately, when we look at a 22-week gestational age human being in a preemie nursery, our brains see it as a baby, and our protective instinct is triggered. Light-hearted chatter about crushing the bodies of late term fetuses disturbs us, and it should. It's completely natural we feel that way. Blather all you want about it not being a baby; your brain knows better.

Now compound this protectiveness with disgust and fear of contamination, which exists, among other things, to protect us from eating bad food. There's a reason why we say 'not while I'm eating lunch' in response to disgusting stories. Watching conversation about dismembering babies, while the speaker is eating lunch, sets off two alarms. If it doesn't disturb you, you're probably a sociopath. And we don't like sociopaths, because we rtightly fear and shun people who don't have instincts that allow them to live peaceably with others.

So people who shake their heads at the 'ick' factor here are simply blind and ignorant; they are denying who we are.

Interestingly, research -- a lot of it done here are UNL -- shows conservatives tend to react more intensely to disgust (and conversely, disgust tends to make people more conservative). And liberals tend to be more protective, which is why they hate fetal pictures. This tape manages to trigger all of us.

Libertarians and liberals tend to argue we can transcend our innate moral sense, where it doesn't squae with our rationally based ethics. Peter Singer, for example, argues that if newborns and late term fetuses are essentially the same (and they are) we should be able to kill newborns just as we perform late-term abortions. Libertarians sometimes argue our incest taboo (another part of the moral sense, linked to disgust) makes no sense applied to sex between consenting adults who can't conceive deformed children, such as same-sex and infertile siblings. They're pissing into the wind.

Conservatives, on the other hand, argue that the moral sense is incredibly important. We humans are simply not smart enough to do complex ethical calculus on the fly. We need a moral instinct, just as we need an instict that lets us figure out the flight of a baseball, and can't just integrate Newton's equations of motion, as a computer would.

We trifle with this stuff at our peril. There's no evidence our moral sense is a cafeteria from which we can pick and choose.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The great social inversion

Reading Jacob Sullum's column about the PA governor's veto of a law that would free up private liquor sales in that state, I reflected on the fact that 40 years ago, liquor sales were still quite restricted in Nebraska. It's all changed. Nowadays, you can buy anything you want in a supermarket, any day of the week. The range of beers is fantastic. Although it's probably formally illegal, I've had cases of wine shipped in from Washington State and from France, without hassle. Since last Friday, you can get married to someone of the same sex here, with the usual restrictions (no underage, no close relatives, and neither of you should already be married). We repealed our sodomy laws way back in 1977.

That's not saying we're an oasis of libertarianism. Unlike most of the states bordering us, you still have to wear a helmet when operating a motorcycle. You can smoke tobacco pretty much nowhere in public. Unlike neighbor Colorado, you can't smoke dope (although cannabis grows wild all over the state). The police seem to be mostly interested in marijuana prohibition so we can intercept pot and money on I-80, but I still wouldn't light up in front of one.

I have no doubt the liquor restrictions in Pennsylvania (and New Hampshire, and in a dozen or so other states) are largely corrupt arrangements between the state and various private interests. Still, moralistic arguments have been offered in their defense. If you're a college student in California and New York, the state now places incredible restrictions on your sexual behavior. If you're at an institution of higher education in those states, your speech is heavily policed for political correctness. Heck, if you're in any sort of public position, even private monetary contributions towards unorthodix causes will lose you your job. You can't buy sugary soda. Even getting a job at a university requires a background check to make sure you're not a pervert.

Meanwhile, drive any interstate through the south, and you're bombarded with billboard ads for X-rated videos and sex shops. Most places don't prosecute prostitution except when it's out on the streeet and creating a public nuisance. Lincoln's own decidedly liberal police chief seems to have given up on Craigslist hooker stings.

My point is this; the places that were once socially conservative are now socially liberal, and the places that were once liberal are now becoming puritan. You don't need a notarized affidavit to have sex with a classmate in most of the red-states; in New York and California, it's safest to be accompanied on a date by a constitutional lawyer.

Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange) wrote a book about this once, called The Wanting Seed. It was written, presciently, in the early 60s, and predicted how the swing towards libertinism would bring about, much later, a reaction. So as liberals once preached free love, now, they're ring-fencing love with a barricade of rules. As they preached access to drugs; now they want to ban everything you might ingest that could conceivably do you harm; as they once championed the "Filthy Speech" movement; now, where they reign, speech requires walking on eggshells, lest you offend one of a myriad of hypersensitive identity groups.

Just as in the past, religious nonconformism led to puritanism, and the fight for women's rights led to prohibition; now the 60's revolution has led to the nanny state. Liberal thought is a giant oscillation between libertinism and prudishness. Meanwhile, conservatism follows along sheepishly, out of phase by a quarter cycle. As puritanism becomes orthodoxy, conservatives will adopt it, and then become angry as liberals suddenly decide libertinism is once again for them.

Right now, the liberal puritan wave is still building, and conservatives are about as libertarian as they'll ever be. All this will change.