That amount, incidentally, is an estimate for what Family Radio is spending per month to warn people that May 21st is Judgement Day. Think of the good they could be doing if they weren’t quite so stupid.
That estimate is based on Family Radio’s assertion that they have 2,000 advertisements including transit and billboards. I estimated 300 billboards and used Lamarr’s rate card to determine a median monthly rate for permanent billboards of $1,000 a month. Bear in mind that doesn’t even consider radio cost, other types of ads, or their RV caravans.
So I guess you heard Osama is dead.
The other day, in the midst of all the fervor over his demise, I posed a question to Twitter/Facebook and got some interesting responses. What I asked was, “Curious if you think it’s right (ethically) to celebrate bin Laden getting killed.” Here’s some of what I got back:
No. Absolutely not. Ever. We ought never to celebrate death, for that is colluding with the enemy. @ericwrobinson
I feel weird about all the jubilation. He should have been taken in to custody and given a trial. Go by the book. Set an example. @jlangham
While I think it was right to do, celebration afterwards gains nothing. I think it is wrong ethically to celebrate any death. Mike Killean
…I think he deserved the “swift justice” he got, but don’t think we should necessarily be quite so jubilant about what amounts to execution. Erica Wiggins
Absolutely. Not celebrating his death, but that he’s no longer a threat to us. Melissa Gibb
I actually asked because I was conflicted myself, and as you can see the responses ran a reasonably wide gamut. No one came back with “#&*@ yeah, wish I coulda pulled the trigger” which I consider a reasonable indicator of the quality of my friends (high). It’s a tricky moral area, and I see two sides to this.
The ‘Good of the Many’
Anyone remember their Wrath of Khan? If not, get it on Netflix and thank me later (or remind me how you hate Star Trek and honestly Jonathan, why such a nerd?). One could argue that executing bin Laden falls under the purview of taking action that benefits the most people. He’d demonstrated his desire to commit similar atrocities if the opportunity arose, we can reasonably assume he hadn’t converted to a kinder, gentler faith in Pakistan so…why not just kill him? Even a conservative estimate would say his death saved the lives of what, a dozen people? Hundreds? Who knows? Let’s kill him and throw a parade.
Well for one thing, we don’t know any of what I just said. We might reasonably believe it, and we might be justified in believing it, but that doesn’t make it so. Should we celebrate the fact he’s dead, even if we could have been wrong? Execution is a pretty final action, and I’m reminded of something Sagan said:
Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another. Carl Sagan, Cosmos
That leads us to…
The Finality of Death
I may have a different perspective on this than you, but I’m confident when you die, you’re done. There is no celestial paradise, or an eternal lake of fire, waiting for you. On the one hand I like that — it eliminates a number of tricky problems, not least of which is ‘what if bin Laden had it right, and he’s in his pearly harem right now.’ Disregarding the misogynistic, medieval nature of that belief I think we can all agree he doesn’t deserve a reward. Good news! He didn’t get one.
However, killing someone does take away everything else they will ever have. Experiences, knowledge, possibility, potential — that’s all gone. That’s a mammoth decision for anyone to make because it is all any of us will ever have.
I’m not sorry he’s dead. Even if I try and drum up some empathy for his last moments (and there’s no doubt they were terrifying, mortally terrifying moments), I have a tough time feeling overly conflicted about it. It’s down to probability. Do we know enough to confidently say we saved lives like this? No. But we’re pretty sure. Do we know his remaining potential was only death and destruction? No. But we’re pretty sure. Osama is an extreme case — these questions become much murkier for victims of cicumstance, or nationalistic conflict.
We shouldn’t celebrate his death. Eric’s right — celebrating death is the first step down a long, gruesome road. But I don’t think that it necessarily follows that his execution wasn’t justified, and the right thing to do. We did the right thing — maybe we celebrate that.
On May 22, this is going to look like a really poor investment.
I was watching the Harris / Craig debate the other night on YouTube (well, the first 3 of 9 parts) in which William Lane Craig, a prominent Christian apologist debated Sam Harris, one of the ‘four horsemen’ of the new atheism, on whether religion or science could provide objective morality — the notion that actions are right or wrong independent of any perspective or societal norms.
What struck me while I watched the opening addresses was that both Craig and Harris were positing that objective morals exist, but that they come from different origins (religion vs. science). Craig opened up with an example: the Holocaust would be objectively wrong even if the Nazis felt it was correct, and would still be wrong if they’d won and eliminated anyone who felt it was evil.
I lost some interest in their debate for two reasons: the nature of chaos, and the difficulty of separating action from motive.
The Nature of Chaos
You saw Jurassic Park, right? Remember Jeff Goldblum’s character explaining Chaos Theory? A simplistic, Hollywood version to be sure, but it’s something like: small actions can produce vast consequences, which we have no way to predict or plan for.
Now take an action with high moral volatility - killing an enemy in war. Is that action right? Well, it depends on your side. But which side is justified? By killing the enemy on the ‘wrong’ side, are you saving life somewhere else? Do you know, for sure, that taking that life was a net positive for human well-being? Is human well-being even a ‘good’ thing at all? Certainly it is to us, but that’s a fairly self-centered view.The simple extrapolation of the myriad factors we can’t take into account would call into question the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of any action.
That implies to me that morals are always subjective - they’re always dependent on who we are, and what we know, and what we think is likely to be the consequence.
There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments - there are only consequences. — Robert Ingersoll
In saying that Col. Ingersoll was affirming that without our subjective view, there are no good or bad actions - only the natural consequences.
Separating Action from Motive
Let’s go back to killing an enemy in war - that’s both an action and a motive. You’re taking a human life, and doing so to protect yourself, or your country, or an ideal, or many different things. To establish objective morals, then, do we need to define objective morals as things that are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ regardless of motive, or are the motives themselves what is objectively good or bad?
Put more simply, is killing wrong? I would say yes, it is…but maybe not always. And there’s the moral subjectivity. I could say more concretely ‘killing for pleasure or material gain is wrong’ and feel more confident that I’ve established an inviolable rule, but one dependent on knowing motive. I could (and do, obviously) live by that maxim…but then I usually know my own motives.
Morals are Subjective
That’s my problem with the Harris / Craig debate. Both men are eloquent speakers in their own way and yes, I identify much more closely with Harris in the debate simply because Craig and I would disagree on some very basic things he takes for granted. If there’s a God then I suppose you could define him as the source of ‘objective’ morality but even that I think is presupposing too much.
They both agreed there are objective morals, only their origin differed. At the end of the day though, neither was really supporting objective morals — only morals derived from a vantage point more objective than simply, say, cultural.
Morals will always be subjective. We can only determine what is good or bad based on what we know, and we’ll never know everything. That isn’t to say there are no moral truths - only that they’re human truths. That’s good enough for me.
Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics.
You are all stardust.
You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded. Because the elements, the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars. And the only way they could get into your body is if the stars were kind enough to explode.
So forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be here today.— Lawrence Krauss
This topic came up over lunch with Bryan, Jeremy and Jordan not long ago. We were discussing a number of things and, mostly out of curiousity, I asked “what’s the value in having multiple languages?” I really am curious.
Consider the web. We have (sort of) one language for the web: HTML. The reasons for this are many, some practical and some political, but at the end of the day we made a decision as an industry that the medium was not the message; that is, HTML vs. something else isn’t the discussion, it’s what we can do with HTML.
Is human language so different? Are we wasting valuable energy maintaining different ways to say the same things, when that energy could be better spent? Many industries and areas have figured this out already: if an American company and a Japanese company are discussing a business deal, there’s no translator in the room. They just speak English. They focus their energy on the task at hand, not the method of communication.
I don’t have an agenda, and I’m a far cry from one of those ‘make English the national language’ nuts who don’t really care much for English, but just don’t care much for people who speak something else. However I am interested in our rapidly shrinking world, and it seems like there’ll be no place in a smaller world for something as trivial as different words for the same things. Is the medium worth the energy, or are there loftier goals?
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