Archive for the ‘ Philosophy ’ Category

Fuck freedom, give me security

A wise man once said:

“They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Oh, sorry, got a typo there. A *white man once said.

The above quotation is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, a rich white dude and one of the Founding Fathers. Apparently, according to wikipedia, he was “the first American”, which is pretty impressive. His famous quotation on Liberty and Security is often repeated, usually as “he who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither” or some close variant, in debates on freedom of speech, censorship, government surveillance etc. And I have a problem with it.

Laurie Penny – a writer who I admire hugely – recently wrote an article entitled “Online bullying isn’t freedom of speech“. The article is brilliant, obviously, describing the ubiquitous nature of the online harassment of high-profile women and how this harassment silences female voices. Ironically, when this fact is pointed out – that this oppression is trampling on the freedom of speech of women on the internet – those calling for the harassment to end are inevitably accused of attempting to stifle the freedom of speech of the harassers. So it has always been.

I don’t get it.

What is this “freedom of speech” that we, as a culture, seem to have this raging principle-boner for? It sure as fuck isn’t the freedom to say whatever you want. No, we’re not free to make threats, we’re not free to print untrue or damaging information about other people, we’re often not free to preach our religious beliefs. And yet I never heard the free-speechers clamouring for Abu Qatada’s release. Weird.

I’d say that most people support those particular restrictions on speech. Even Americans, whose entire society is built around freedom-as-an-ideal, don’t allow their rich to be slandered or their religious to be offended. Free speech is, at best, fairly free speech, and I personally am not even very attached to that.

The problem with freedom is that it allows those with more power – physically or socially – to override the freedoms of those with less. In any free interaction, none are guaranteed any freedom at all. In a best case scenario, each may choose to act conscientiously, allowing the freedom of the other; in a worst case scenario each may choose to act in a way that diminishes the freedom of the other. In an interaction regulated by social norms and the threat of state violence (law), each can be confident that their major freedoms will be preserved. In an ideal interaction, only those actions that would directly diminish the freedom of another would be regulated. The maximisation of freedoms after the guarantee of security, as opposed to the misguided notion that freedom is an end in and of itself.

It is easy to see that freedom and security will be prioritised differently by different sections of society. Those with power will never have cause for concerns of security, and thus will not prioritise security highly. They will interpret their privilege as freedom. Where they encounter resistance to their perceived freedom – when they’re criticised for harassment, for example – freedom will naturally become what they prioritise most highly.

Conversely, those without power – those whose freedoms are consistently diminished by others – will prioritise security. People who only want to be heard, such as the women in Laurie’s article, do not require the freedom abused by those who act to silence them. They need a guarantee that their basic freedoms will be protected.

It was all well and good for Benjamin Franklin to expound upon the virtues of Liberty over Safety, but it’s important to remember that he was a person whose safety was never particularly at risk. When he wrote those words, and throughout much of his life, Franklin himself was a slave-owner. Anti-abolitionists argued that they had a “right” to own slaves – that abolitionists were attempting to take away their freedom.

Fuck that. Fuck your freedom. I want safety, for myself and for those I love, and I’m willing to fight for it. Franklin would later become a strong proponent of abolition, which is better than nothing I suppose, and I live in hope that one day we’ll come to our senses too.

I guess what I’m trying to say – without wanting to put too fine a point on it – is that freedom is slavery.



The Way of the Twitter Warrior

  1. First and foremost, you must have a non-Twitter safe haven to retreat to. Preferably this should be an irl location/activity – such as the pub with friends, a walk in the country, fish & chips on the beach etc. – but any happy place will do.
  2. Do your research. You might be thinking of an online debate as a battle of personalities – even if this is so, your argument is your sword and your shield. You have the time, so make them as strong as you can. If your argument is opinion based, try to give sensible reasons.
  3. Acquaint yourself with the correct terminology to label fallacious arguments – “straw man”, “slippery slope”, “ad hominem”, etc. This allows you to dismiss them easily, quickly, concisely (you have fewer than 140 characters, after all), and professionally. CAVEAT: try not to drop in too many intellectual-sounding words. It will make you look like a dick.
  4. Write properly. Spelling and grammar are important. Since it is Twitter, abbreviations are acceptable in the name of brevity; but use them only as and when needed.
  5. Refusing to be pulled into an unwinnable  argument is a victory in itself. Choose your battles, and choose them wisely. Choosing not to fight is not the same as losing!
  6. Steel yourself for uncouth language. It’s the internet, I’m afraid, and sometimes people say swears. If your opponent has a particularly salty vocabulary, a “why all the swearing?” or “do you message your mother with that language?” might earn you morality points; but otherwise it’s best ignored. Swear if you have to, but keep in mind that over-swearing gives a polite opponent the opportunity to score morality points off you.
  7. Know thine enemy. When preparing to engage an opponent, a quick reconnaissance of their profile can give you an idea of what you’re dealing with. Recon carefully, you may find the key to your opponent’s defeat.
  8. Love thine enemy. Your task is to enlighten, not (solely) to humiliate. Compassion is valuable because however wrong they are, they’re still a person. Try to see things from their perspective, not least of all because they might be right (and if they are, the sooner you know the better! Arguing with someone who’s right is like playing chicken with a tank – you can win, but they’ve got to be stupid and you have to be brilliant).
  9. Take the moral high ground. You can lose an argument if you have the moral high ground, but you can’t lose it badly. The moral high ground is a fantastic buffer. This means no personal attacks, and as little swearing as possible.
  10. If you want to sting your opponent, use insults that they can’t respond to without weakening their own position; specifically insults that are too complicated/passive-aggressive/backhanded for your opponent to respond to concisely, or that are so mild your opponent will look childish if they take offence. Words hurt, and sometimes less is more effective than more.
  11. Ad hominems. Ad hominems are a dangerous game, and are unlikely to work in your favour. If you’re set on an ad hominem, the less aggressive the better. Something like “17,000 tweets? You spend way too much time on here”, or “Daily Mail reader, are we?” are acceptable, though they may cost you the moral high ground.
  12. Brevity is key. Wherever possible, make your points in a single tweet. Nothing looks more amateurish (and is more tedious to respond to) than a point made over the span of several tweets.
  13. Quote sources for your facts. Sources are a “shield” of sorts, as they protect you personally from criticism – “hey, don’t blame me! I’m just quoting XYZ”. Quotes/facts are super-effective if they come from a source your opponent respects. Likewise, if they come from a source your opponent has no respect for (e.g. newspapers/broadcasters with a political bias, religious institutions, particular politicians) they’re unlikely to aid your argument at all.
  14. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Typos and other minor errors aren’t worth pointing out, as it’ll make you look petty and can cost you the moral high ground.  Pedantry of any kind is, for practical purposes, an admission of defeat. Exceptions are: if their spelling and grammar are so bad you’ve lost interest in debating with them; or if you are trolling, and can pull it off in that particular situation.
  15. One at a time. Arguing with multiple opponents will crowd your message with @’s, and you have limited space as it is. Likewise, separate threads are easier to keep track of than a single thread that multiple people are @-replying to.
  16. There is no need to reply to every @-message. Feel free to ignore argumentative messages that don’t interest you (whoever it is will very likely find someone else to argue with) and messages in which you are @-mentioned but are talking about you instead of to you.
  17. Do not feed the trolls. Ever. Exception: for lulz.
  18. Avoid obvious logical fallacies. An obvious logical fallacy (a crude ad hominem, for example) is an admission of defeat.
  19. Never delete a tweet. This is an incontrovertible sign of guilt, and will be seen as such. Try not to say anything that will need deleting. Exception: if you notice an error within the first minute of posting, in which case a delete/edit/re-post is acceptable.
  20. Tweet as if your mother/employer is watching.
  21. Sarcasm is a risky business. If it is misunderstood (which is entirely possible given that written sarcasm doesn’t often work well and people on the internet are stupid) having to explain it will make you look like a fool.
  22. Watch your crossfire! Misunderstandings and misinterpretations can lead to tense words between people who don’t know that they actually agree with each other. This is a hurt feeling waiting to happen. Read all messages carefully and critically, and check the profiles of those you speak with (See number 7).
  23. Backup – if others are having the same debate as you, give constructive back up where it is needed. Those to whom you provide backup may back you up someday. CAVEAT: be careful not to piss on your ally’s points or derail their debate, as this is unlikely to win you any friends.
  24. Keep it relevant. Do not @-reply your opponent’s past tweets – stick to those regarding the topic at hand. Preferably engage in only one thread per opponent (two maximum).
  25. When it’s over, it’s over. Winning an argument only to be ignored may be frustrating, but repeatedly messaging a person who no longer wishes to speak with you makes you look pathetic (and wether you’re pathetic or not, you probably don’t want to look pathetic).
  26. If you have to leave (for food, work, sleep etc.) before the debate is over, try to frame it in a subtle “I have a life” kind of way. In many cases you will be able to pick up the argument at your next convenience, this time with the benefit of a cooler head and an increasingly uninterested opponent.
  27. Where possible, allow your opponent the last word (particularly in drive-by quickie arguments). If the last word they choose to give is anything remotely dickish, their dickishness is doubled when you don’t respond. If they say something dickish and you do respond, the best case scenario is that you come off as kind of up-yourself and snooty (“fuck you, you piece of shit!”/”oh, how mature #eyeroll”) and the worst case scenario is that you end up looking as dickish as they do and probably also stupid (“fuck you, you piece of shit!”/”no, fuck YOU, YOU piece of shit!”). If they then don’t reply, you become the dick with the dickish last word.
  28. If necessary, admit defeat. If you lose an argument, or realise that you’ve been backed into an indefensible position, admitting defeat is somewhat akin to amputating a gangrenous leg. It will put you back on the moral high ground (or as close as possible to).
  29. Win forcefully. If you have proven your case beyond a doubt, but your opponent refuses to see sense, you may choose to end the debate with a definitive “I’ve given you the facts but you refuse to acknowledge them”. For some people, the fight is never over. Continue arguing with them if you want to, but it’s unlikely you’ll gain anything from it.
  30. Win gracefully. If your opponent admits defeat, there is nothing more magnanimous than a gracious winner. A “that’s ok, it’s been really cool talking to you!” is pretty much the best you can hope for and that, my friend, is an epic win.

Nineteen Eighty-Four

I’ve been in more than one argument that’s ended with people pointing at me and yelling “1984! 1984!”. I always had a suspicion that the book wasn’t being referenced accurately, and so recently I decided to read it for myself. I found it immensely enjoyable. It’s captivating, chilling, and supremely relevant to the context in which it was written.

I have to admit that history is not my strong point (unfortunate, given that ignorance of history is one of the novel’s central themes) but the current political climate is worlds apart from that of 1940s Europe. As such, I don’t think that Nineteen Eighty-Four can be used to “shine a light” on the actions of modern governments in the way that many people seem to want it to be.

The stereotypical “Nineteen Eighty-Four” comparison arises in discussions on surveillance; be it via CCTV camera, email scanners, or DNA sampling.

I personally couldn’t give a toss. I don’t believe in this “right to privacy” that people are so attached to. In my opinion, there are two problems with a “right to privacy”:

  1. The phrase “right to privacy” is meaningless. What is privacy, and how is it violated? How is it measured? Is a glance enough to violate privacy, or does it have to be a thorough inspection? Does it matter whether you are in a public or private space? Why? Does it matter whether or not you’re aware that you’ve been observed? Why? Does it matter whether the observer is a human or a machine (or a monkey, or a flower, or a ghost)? How far does your “privacy bubble” extend – does it only cover you, or does it cover your property; and if so how long does it cover your property for once you discard it (old laptops, clothes, family photographs etc.)?
  2. Privacy is not a necessary condition for a happy life. The government could have read every single email I’ve ever sent, and there would be no measurable impact on my quality of life. Strangers could walk past my window all day long and I’m pretty sure I’d be OK. I could get caught on CCTV cameras from every single angle, and it wouldn’t hurt me. There are almost infinite situations in which privacy is unnecessary.

I believe in a right not to be humiliated. I believe that there are sets of circumstances where privacy between two or more specific parties is necessary. A teenager might want to keep their browser history private from their family, for example. A job applicant might want to keep their personal life private from their potential employer. I believe that in any situation in which public knowledge of personal details could lead to any measurable harm, privacy should be an option. In a relationship between an individual and a disinterested government, however, why hold back? Yes I would find it a bit weird if there was a camera in my bathroom, recording my lavatorial exploits, but if there were cameras in every bathroom who would care? (Why put a camera in a bathroom?)

The disinterested government is the real issue, not the methods of surveillance used. In Nineteen Eighty-Four the telescreens and hidden microphones are a tool used by a zealously authoritarian government to eliminate the freedoms of its people – and before anyone starts talking about British authoritarianism I’m just going to have to go ahead and point out that the British government does not track down, torture, and murder its citizens for expressing anti-government opinions, talking in their sleep, or having extramarital sex; so it’s not really an accurate comparison now is it?

And THAT is why people who blabber endlessly about Big Brother piss me off. No one is watching you, and no one cares what you’re doing. Even the people who know you don’t care what you’re doing. The government cares even less.

… unless, of course, you’re doing something illegal. Which is an issue that needs a certain amount of discussion. I’m not going to say “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”, because I hate that argument. It’s unpleasant and accusatory, and not worth the breath used to speak it. Instead, I’d like to address those who are concerned about being caught on CCTV doing something illegal: surely it’s more sensible to protest the illegality of your action, whatever it may be, than the method of detection?


  1. I want to do X (graffiti, protest, shoplift).
  2. X is illegal.
  3. If I do something illegal, I will get caught and punished.

If you believe that what you’re doing is right, then the problem is at step 2, not at step 3 – if you do away with step 3 you’re hindering the enforcement of all laws. If your problem is with step 3 then fine, you might have legitimate beef with surveillance.

But enough with the Big Brother bullshit! Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a novel about the inherent evil of being watched all the time, and if you sincerely believe it is I suggest you read it again.

Vegetarianism: Hypocritical?

Point of clarification (no. 1): I’m not talking about people who are vegetarian for religious reasons (followers of Buddhism or Hinduism for example), or personal non-moral reasons (e.g. health reasons/a dislike of the taste of meat). I’m talking solely about people who believe it is morally wrong for human beings to eat meat.

Point of clarification (no. 2): I am opposed to causing unnecessary harm to other living creatures. My personal opinion is that animals should never be harmed except for food or in self defense, and even then harm should be minimized.

So, here’s my point.

Vegetarians believe that it is morally wrong to eat meat. However, animals eat meat. Since I’ve never heard of a vegetarian who believes that animals are immoral for eating each other, I must assume that they believe humans and animals are different from each other on a fundamental level. Human beings are seen as moral, whilst animals are not.

In my opinion, this belief is flawed. Human beings are certainly different from other animals in that they are over-endowed with the attribute commonly referred to as “intelligence”. However, we are still animals.

It seems to me that these vegetarians have double standards. On the one hand they claim to love and respect animals, but on the other hand they claim a moral and intellectual superiority. They seem desperate to separate themselves from the beasts, creating a moral hierarchy and then egocentrically placing themselves at the top.

I am comfortable knowing myself as a human animal, and thus I reject this view.

Following this thought to its natural conclusion, I must consider how I would feel if I were placed at a lower point in the food chain. If there was a crocodile trying to eat me, I would be horrified. I would do everything in my power to avoid being eaten. BUT – I wouldn’t think of the crocodile as “immoral” for trying to eat me. It’s the circle of life, guys. Didn’t any of you watch The Lion King?

The Agnostic Calvinist

The term “agnostic Calvinist” could be considered a fairly accurate description of my philosophical leanings. Yes, Calvinism is a Christian theology and therefore the term “agnostic Calvinist” is clearly an oxymoron, but bear with me and I’ll try to explain what I mean.

Firstly, a brief summary of Calvinism –

Calvinism is a really interesting approach to Christianity, based around five fantastic central points. These five central points can be summarised with the acronym “TULIP”, which stands for (respectively):

  • Total depravity – Calvinists believe that all humans are born into sin. Humans are inherently selfish rather than selfless, and are therefore unable to freely choose god.
  • Unconditional election – God has chosen a select few, and only they will receive salvation (and only through Christ).
  • Limited atonement – Although Jesus’ sacrifice could have redeemed all of mankind, it only atoned for the sins of god’s chosen.
  • Irresistible grace – Basically this means that if god wants to save you, you will be saved. Doesn’t matter whether you want it or not.
  • Perseverance of the saints – The chosen stay chosen, and if they stray then they were never really chosen in the first place.

How I interpret this as an agnostic –

  • If there is a god and he wants me to be saved, I will be saved.
  • If there is a god and he doesn’t want me to be saved, there’s nothing I can do about it.
  • If there is no god, there’s nothing to be gained by worrying.

I find this incredibly relaxing. The fate of my immortal soul (should such a thing exist) is entirely out of my hands.

I’ve tried to explain this to street preachers before, but unfortunately street preachers (and Christians generally, for that matter) don’t like being told that human beings are inherently  incapable of choosing god of their own volition.

If you’re at all interested (and have time on your hands), I thoroughly recommend reading up on Calvinism. When you get to Lapsarianism… ooh, that is some tasty stuff ; )

That’s all I’ve got, folks. Thank you for your time. This post was a bit rushed, so I’m sorry if things don’t make sense. Feel free to leave a comment if I’ve made a mistake or if you want anything clarified x