Sunday, December 23, 2007

good is not Great: How Morality Poisons Everything

Below is a edited portion of Ethane Wist's new book, good is not Great: How Morality Poisons Everything. I hope you enjoy it.


good is not Great

How Morality Poisons Everything

Chapter 1 - To Put it Gingerly

THOSE READERS WHO may wish to bemoan the conclusion of this essay must remember that they cavil against our dear sweet Mother Nature for making me this way. Not only that, they sully the reputation of a fine 5th grade Earth Science teacher - Ms. Fluggler.

Ms. Fluggler was a kind woman. She had thick grey hair, which she didn’t seem to mind whether it was fiered or not. Her face was worn by the elements, all that time living with gorillas in the Congo had been unkind to her. But she knew her science. That was all that mattered.

Her lessons were coruscating for the agog student. She knew her way around frog anatomy like, pardon the reference to a barbaric and uncouth “sport,” Jeff Gordon knows his way around a race car.

My memory isn’t terribly clear, but for the most part what I report is fairly accurate. I can recall a field trip Ms. Fluggler took our class on. We went to the tide pools in La Jolla California. As we held the various sea creatures I remember how sanguine I was. I wanted to grow up and be just like Ms. Fluggler, without the minstrel cycles, of course. But that day was one that I will remember forever.

Ms. Fluggler was in a particularly rancorous mood that day, as I recall. She was up-in-arms over the recent oil spill that had occurred off the coast of Alaska. The lagniappe hunting off our coast which had claimed the lives of countless sea cucumbers caught in various traps intended for other sea-faring denizens of the deep. The trash and sewage that was discarded in our oceans so that people could have “necessities” such as toilettes. Apparently these travesties were caused by corporations that simply used the earth and other people as mere means, not as ends in themselves.

As we listened intently to our abecedary, she mentioned something that caught me quite off-guard. She said that these people were guilty of “immoralities.” That they had violated invariant moral laws. That they were “guilty” of ethical misconduct. They didn’t act how they “ought” to have acted. It was at this moment that I felt embarrassed for my beloved teacher. She was so naïve. An idealist. A modern day Platonist. Or perhaps a modern day Aristotelian. A moral prophet. I didn’t know these philosophies then, of course. But then again, I didn’t need to. I had been schooled in the ways of science. I didn’t need to be familiar with all of this, though. I simply knew that Ms. Fluggler had managed to get everything wrong in a couple of paragraphs. What she had instilled in us came rushing to the defense of my frontal lobe (or, is it my occipital lobe? I can never keep them straight.). What we knew about nature, man, how we know anything, and free-thinking cried out against her invocations of magical terms and queer entities.

What I knew then was that there couldn’t be any true moral rules. Today I can express that same childish propositions as an affirmation of moral nihilism. Let me tell you about moral nihilists. We are your neighbors. Your teachers. Your sports heroes. Your children and your parents. Not many of us call a jail cell our home - as the studies confirm. In fact, it is fair to say that we are more “moral” (to use your terminology) than many of those who believe in ethical truths (whether subjectivists, relativists, or realists). We do not molest children - that is for those who say they believe in morals. We do not believe in moral laws or moral guilt - yet no statistic will ever find that without these banishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence that the faithful adherents to moral authority. We know that those moralists have, in fact, been the ones guilty of violating the very laws they say exist.

Most of the apologetic literature the moralists put forth is laughable. The arguments are simply dusted off relics of primitive ages. Ancient, stupid peoples believed in “moral rules” and gave arguments for their existence much the same as we read today. But how many needless assumptions must be made? How much contortion is required? Why must new books be printed in light of new scientific findings so that “moral theories” can “fit” with the findings of science? These moral laws have caused guilt, self-loathing, and wars. But it is all for naught.

The mildest criticism of morality is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Morality is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their maestros, redeemers, reformers or gurus say ethical theory is. But still these people claim to “know.” Not just know that moral rules exist, but that they demand certain things of our diet and sexual preferences. But like religion is man made, that does not mean that people should believe in its precepts. Same with morality.

If you met me in a pub, you wouldn’t know this was my view. I have probably sat up later and longer with the moral teachers that most adherents of morality. Moral faith (belief) is, precisely because we are still-evolving creatures, ineradicable. It will never die out, not at least until we get over our need for “order” and “rules” imposed on us eons ago by tribal leaders who wanted to secure their place in the hierarchy of the clan. For this reason, I do not prohibit you from your beliefs. Very generous, you say? But will you grant me this same tolerance? As you read these words, people of varying moral beliefs are planning our destruction. They may use religious or political facades to give their moral beliefs force, but the fact is that their moralities aim for your destruction, and the destruction of all hard-won human attainments. Morality poisons everything.

Chapter 2 - Morality Kills

IN THE GOTHIC grandeur of Washington National Cathedral George W. Bush made clear that his high-minded beliefs in the existence of a morality would dictate his actions in response to the terrorist (or, freedom fighter, it’s a matter of perspective) attacks of September 11th. On Sept. 14, 2001 ''Just three days removed from these events,'' Bush phonated, ''Americans do not yet have ‘the distance of history.’ But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.'' Oh, those 4 little letters, e-v-i-l, along with their dichotomous partners in crime, g-o-o-d, have been the cause for so much turmoil and misery.

They call them “moral rules.” Well, let us imagine, for a moment that they exist. They have the purpose of allowing humans to flourish. Imagine that if we obey these rules we will have guilt-free, sleepless nights. We will qualify for that honorific title “virtuous character,” or “saint.” I do not envy you this belief (because it seems to me that you wish for a form of impersonal or personal dictatorship), but I do have a sincere question. Why does such a belief not make its adherents happy? It must seem to them that they have come into possession of a marvelous secret, of the sort they could cling to in moments of the most extreme “moral” dilemma.

Superficially, this does seem the case sometimes. I have been outside courtrooms where a guilty verdict has been handed down and I heard whoops of absolution and vociferations for the great display of justice. And this is countered with somber feelings of guilt for violations of “moral law.” But what is most interesting is that no matter how the intensity fluctuates, there is one simple truth, morality does not, and in the long run cannot, be content with its own marvelous claims to sublime assurance. It must seek to interfere with the lives of nihilists, non-cognitivists, and other non-believers. This is to be expected, after all, morality is only man-made. It does not have the confidence in its own teachings to let dissenters live in peace.

Countries have wars waged against others for violations of moral law. For “committing atrocities.” Humans are put in jails, caged like animals, all for not living up to the moral codes of a society. Children at schools are shunned for having “different” ideas. For being “different.” The “virtuous person,” it is claimed, “shouldn’t be socially awkward.” People are then ostracized for violations of “eudemonia.” Others impose moralities on others. They are told, as if we believed in some kind of telos, or purpose, to reality, that they “shouldn’t” be that way. These “moral impositions” are set down as a burden on the “effete.” Those who lay down these burdens are religious clergy, secularists, naturalists, scientists, and even the high school football players. That is to say, having a “morality” spans across various ideologies.

I can anamnesis the time I was on a popular moralists radio show. He challenged me to answer a yes/no question. I gladly and haughtily accepted his challenge. In his typically magniloquent way, he said, “Alright, very well then.” I was to imagine myself with the ability to live in either one of two places. One was a country with a dictator who believed in morality, the other was a country whose dictator was a moral nihilist. I could see very easily that this wasn’t a yes/no question. But, being number five on a list of Britain’s top 100 intellectuals, I forged on in my typically august way. Okay, let’s just start with the decade of my birth - the 1940s - I can say that I would gladly choose the country with a moral nihilist for a dictator.

Here, then, is a brief summary of morally inspired cruelty of just two dictators of the 1940’s, Hitler and Stalin. As Vladimir Lenin once quipped, “Our ethics are an instrument for destroying the old society of exploiters; a struggle for the consolidation and the realization of Communism is the basis for communist ethics (V. Lenin, Collected Works, XXVI). In Richard Overy’s magisterial work, The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, we are greeted with “the one question that is seldom asked of the two dictatorships yet is fundamental to understanding how they could behave as they did towards the populations under their power: why did they think they were right?” (ibid, p.265). Overy points out that they did not think what they were doing was immoral. That it is doubtful that they spent sleepless night tortured by the thoughts of countless millions suffering at their commands. Why? “In each dictatorship a unique moral universe was constructed in order to justify and explain what appear otherwise to be the most sordid and arbitrary acts” (ibid, p. 265).

Many have dismissed the ethics of these men as mere rhetorical devices to justify their outrageous actions. But to do so, according to Overy, distorts the historical reality and undermines any attempt to understand these dictators on their own terms. Overy’s work has been called a masterpiece. It is the result of 30 years of hard thinking and research by an expert on dictatorship. Overy dismantles the idea that that Hitler and Stalin did what they did for Christian or religious reasons (cf. ibid, pp. 265-304). “Both regimes were driven by powerful moral imperatives that challenged and transcended the norms derived from the heritage of Roman antiquity and Christianity. … The most evident examples of this moral contest can be found in their attitudes to organized religion and the law. Both institutions were rooted in moral traditions that long pre-dated dictatorship; both institutions offered a moral sphere, or a moral reference point, for those who wanted to stand outside the predatory ideology of the systems. The moral plane of dictatorship was not an irrelevance, but a battleground between differing interpretations of justice and moral certainty” (ibid, p. 266).

“Communism was understood to be the most progressive and highly developed stage of history, and hence, by definition, ethically superior to all other forms of society” (ibid, p. 267). For Hitler, “Racial purity the highest law” (ibid, p.268). “[T]he German people, or ‘Aryan’ people, who had climbed the ‘endless ladder of human progress’, represented the pinnacle of historical achievement” (ibid, p . 268), and thus the highest ethic was their preservation. Therefore, “dictatorship was justified not by subjective factors (the ambition of powerful men, for example) but by objective laws of nature and history. The result was a moral displacement that relieved the regimes and their agents of direct responsibility for their actions” (ibid, p.268).

As I said, Overy utterly decimates any real connection between Hitler and Stalin and religion. Discussing his arguments, and offering his direct quotes from both Stalin and Hitler, will take us too far off target. I did provide the references and so any dissenters are free to check the detailed historical work presented by Overy. I say this not to justify religion, for that is just as man-made as is morality, but to show that morality poisons. Morality can do evil just as religious belief can. Thus Overy, “Protected by this warped moral armor, the perpetrators of state crime carried out orders whose fulfillment is otherwise incomprehensible. … The dictatorship used this moral distinction to win popular approval, to legitimize the otherwise illegitimate exercise of state power, to applaud the brutality and lawlessness that state power unleashed, but, above all, because both assumed that the imperatives of history made them right. … Neither the dictatorships not the behavior of the dictators can be understood without recognizing that it was essential for them to be viewed as the moral instruments of an irrepressible and redemptive historical movement” (ibid, p. 303).

And so, yes, give me the moral nihilist as the better of the two options!

Chapter 3 - The Metaphysical and Alethic Claims of the Moralist are False

THE CLAIMS OF the moralist are false. One must state it plainly. Morality comes from the period of human pre-history where nobody - not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms - had the smallest idea of what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as the comfort of praise and the self-righteous list to mete out blameworthy condemnations on others). Today the least educated of my children know more about the world than did any moralist: Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, &c. All attempts to reconcile morality with science are consigned to failure and ridicule for precisely these reasons. Sure, there are appeals to the naturalist for accounts of morality. But I immediately respond to such points by saying that if in the first place humanity had either (a) not tried to get others to do what they wanted and so proposed “moral rules,” or (b) had not been so weak and fearful that they had to make up an invisible “moral law” whereby they could hold their leaders lust for violence at bay, they would have had no need to invent such "moral laws."

The weapon we can use here comes from the making of a theologian and moralist who continues to speak eloquently across the ages: William Ockham; sometimes known as William of Ockham and presumably named after his native village in Surrey England. It was the moralist, Ockham, who leads us to an unwelcome (to him) conclusion. Fellow atheist, Christopher Hitchens, tells us about how Ockham is helpful in this discussion. “He devised a ‘principle of economy,’ popularly known as ‘Ockham’s razor,’ which relied for its effect on disposing of unnecessary assumptions and accepting the first sufficient explanation or cause. ‘Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.’ This principle extends itself. ‘Everything which is explained through positing something different from the act of understanding,’ he wrote, ‘can be explained without positing such a distinct thing’” (Hitchens, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, p. 70).

We can use the razor to our benefit. The prophets of moralism have admitted that the razor is a weapon used against them. Atheistic moralist, Russ Shafer-Landau has admitted as much. “The basic reason for suspicion [regarding the existence of good and evil] stems from an application of Occam’s razor” (Shafer-Landau, Whatever Happened to Good and Evil, Oxford, p 92). Is moral realism or moral nihilism more simple? Again, the moralists help us out: “The skeptic has a simple, readily understandable story to tell about morality - we invented it all. … The objectivist view can’t be this simple, and has struck many as too mysterious to be believed. …[S]kepticism, though, offer[s] us a simpler picture of the ethical realm…” (ibid, p.12).

So the first line of attack uses the razor to show that the moral objectivists have an admittedly more complex theory. They posit strange entities. Thus Mackie, "If their were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe. Correspondingly, if we are aware of them, it would have to be by some special faculty or moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways of knowing anything else" (J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, 1977, p.38). The moral realist thinks his positings explain certain facts about the world (just as theists think the positing of a deity explains why volcanoes happen). For example, “Hitler killed millions of Jews because he was morally depraved.” But it is doubtful whether the realists (there are realists who appeal to God to explain morality, but fellow Brights like Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens have dismantled this move) have adequately made a case for the explanatory necessity of moral facts.

A non-realist might tell this story about Hitler: “Hitler was a very bitter and angry person. Because of various false beliefs about the Jews (most importantly his belief that Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I), he found hatred of the Jews to be a satisfying way of releasing his pent-up hostility and anger. His moral beliefs did not place any bounds of restraints on his expression of that hatred” (Thomas Carson, Value and the Good Life, Notre Dame Press, p.194). So, moral posits may, at best, be relevant to explain Hitler’s behavior, they have not been shown to be necessary to explain Hitler’s behavior. In other words, “Moral properties seem to be dispensable for explanatory purposes. Natural properties seem to be doing all the work in the explanations in question” (ibid, p. 98).

Some who believe in morality think they can escape the difficulties the razor applies to the above systems. They have not gone all the way to moral nihilism, full stop. They call themselves subjectivists or relativists. Their position is simpler - we make up our ethical mores. They try to give explanations for moral rules without positing the existence of weird and strange entities. But since all ethics are false, they fail like their more elaborate cousins. For starters, if an ethical claim is true because a cognitive subject or a society say it is, then we have a system which allows contradictions. If Tom says that it is true that X is moral, and Harry says that it is true that ~X is moral, and if both of these claims are said to be true, then we have a contradiction. The subjectivist then qualifies and says that X is moral is true, for him. But the problem, as I see it, is that all these people engage in loud, abrasive, and substantial debate over ethical issues. This is a problem because “true for me” just means “I believe it.” Thus all the subjectivist means when he says that X is immoral is that “I believe X is immoral.” If he reports his beliefs accurately, then what he says is true. Why would anyone debate true statements? Thus the charge of contradiction may be escaped, but the charge of internal irrationality is now brought forth. People don’t normally get involved in heated debates over true statements. These subjectivists do not get in heated debates over their friends claim that his favorite flavor of ice cream is strawberry. That they do so in ethical discussions shows that they are internally irrational. The moral nihilist is opposed to irrationalities and to claims that outrage reason. In fact, if these subjectivists teach their own children their moral system, and teach them to debate their friends who hold to opposing beliefs, then they are guilty of child abuse In fact, any parent who teaches their children about the existence of right and wrong is guilty of child abuse. To teach your children falsehoods is abusive. This is similar to those parents who teach their children that they are the special creation of a deity and not the product of billions of years of purposeless evolution.

Similar arguments could be brought to bear against the cultural relativist. The point is that moralists suffer either from Ockham’s razor, or myriad other irrationalities. As scientific peoples, as rational 21st century peoples, we must eschew the existence of moral rules, in any of their forms.

Chapter 4 - The Discordance of the Moralist

ONE OF THE strongest arguments fellow members of the New Atheism bring up against the faithful is the existence of myriad irreconcilable differences; both inter- and intra-religious. Same with morality.

There are realists, non realists, objectivists, subjectivists, and variations within all those categories. There are consequentiaists, deontologists, and virtue ethics. And within those there are differences. Take a popular form of consequentialism: Utilitarianism. There are qualitative and quantitative hedonists. Act and rule Utilitarians. Actual and practical consequence utilitarians. The are various forms of deontologism. And discord is sown between them. For example, some say that there are two categorical imperatives found in Kant. Other say that there is only one - humans are not to be treated as mere means, and the other one is not a standard but a decision-guide. That is, to figure out how to act in situations one must ask if the action could be universalized without contradiction. There are disagreements within the virtue theories too. And if this wasn’t enough, some hold to mixtures of the above, e.g., W.D Ross’ limited moral pluralism. There are particularists who deny that there are any foundational principles that can be applied as action-guides and each and every particular basis must be taken on a case by case basis.

All this to say, just as with various critiques proffered against religion, these massive dissimilitudes serve to show that ethics are man-made. That is not to say they should still be held on to. Just as with religion, they should be dropped. The moral nihilist doesn’t suffer from the problems of the realist or the subjectivist or the relativist. In other areas where we accept the reality of the subject, say, math, physics, etc., we do not see such differences. Sure, there may be some differences to be found within those disciples, but no where close to what we see with adherents of morality (and religion).

Not only that, but just like the claims made by fellow Bright, Christopher Hitchens, some of these systems are just to demanding. Hitchens rightly notes that the Ten Commandments are too demanding He rightly notes that this overdemandingness serves to show the man-made features of religion (Hitchens, p. 100). Well, what of, say, Utilitarianism. If the morality of every action is judged by its utility, and if I could produce more utility by serving at the shelter on Friday night rather than going to the movies, then I should serve T.V. dinners to the homeless. Shouldn’t I live right at the bare minimum I need to survive? I could eat Top Ramen noodles every night rather than chicken and steak. I could then pass on the savings to starving children in Africa. All these results would produce more utility than the actions I currently am engaged in. But this is too demanding! Sure proof that morality is man made.

Chapter 5 - There is No Eastern Solution

AS CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS says, “It can even be argued that Buddhism is not, in our sense of the word, a ‘religion’” (Hitchens, p.199). Again, I point this out not to disculpate religions, but to show that morality poisons everything.

There are some who feel that if all these Western moral systems have created problems in our world, we should look to Eastern moralities. But no hope is to be found there. Long before the modern-day terrorist attacks, the Buddhists had utilized the tactic of suicide murder. Indeed, a Buddhist priest murdered the first president of Sri-Lanka (ibid, p. 199). Hitchens points out that because of Buddhist moral beliefs, Japan advocated imperialism and mass murder (ibid, p.201). Hitchens cites the united Buddhist leadership speaking of its involvement with the Nazi/fascists: “In order to establish eternal peace in East Asia, arousing the great benevolence and compassion of Buddhism, we are sometimes accepting and sometimes forceful. We now have no choice but to exercise the benevolent forcefulness of ‘killing one in order that many may live’ (issatsu tasho). This is something which Mahayana Buddhism approves of only with the greatest of seriousness” (ibid, 203). That claim is dripping with moral terminology. Again, Hitchens indicts the Buddhists, “By the end of the dreadful conflict that Japan had started, it was Buddhist and Shinto priests who were recruiting and training suicide bombers, or Kamikaze…” (ibid, p. 203). Due to Buddhism’s (and many Japanese’s) moral beliefs, Japan “adopt[ed] a policy of prostration at the feet of a homicidal dictator” (ibid, p.203). This grisly case also helps to undergird my general case for considering “morality” a threat.

Chapter 6 - An Objection Considered

SOME MAY SAY that I have been inconsistent. That I am using morality to condemn morality. Holding to an ethic which lets me condemn ethics. I shall briefly respond. Two things can be said. The first is that if I am contradicting myself, so what? I may not have figured out a way to express myself since I have been conditioned by moralists. However, I can agree with fellow Bright, Christopher Hitchens, when he says, “…I am content to think that some contradictions will remain contradictory, some problems will never be resolved by the mammalian equipment of the human cerebral cortex, and some things are indefinitely unknowable” (Hitchens, p. 10). Secondly, I don’t think I have been offering moral condemnations. I have simply described the outcome moral belief has wrought to our world: countless deaths, massive guilt, irrational beliefs, unscientific beliefs, and an air of superiority over other peoples.

For example, if a moral belief is true because it is believed by a cognitive agent, or by a culture, then all moral beliefs, so long s they represent the sincere and genuine beliefs of said agent or culture, are incapable of being false. Thus subjectivism and relativism lead to an infallibility of your stock of moral beliefs. This satiates our god-like desire for infallibility. Our hankering after omniscience. Since I reject the imposition of the Judeo-Christian religion in my life, I likewise reject the instilled desire to “know right from wrong:”

Genesis 3

The Fall of Man

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,

3 but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

4 "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.

5 "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

Accordingly, I have thus not engaged in moral condemnations. I have simply set forth the facts. You draw from it what you will. If you agree that morality is a great cause of immorality, and you also hold to morality, then you need to drop one of those beliefs. Free-thinking scienticism does not suffer internally irrational fools gladly. We place them, like Abraham did to Isaac, on the alter of reason, and sacrifice them to the god of this age - Unaided Reason. Unaided Reason thinks without the constraints of authorities. All authority is cast off. This includes religious and moral authority. So, that you picked up a moral condemnation of morality says more about you than it does me. If you have noted the immorality of morality (to use your terminology), then join me and other courageous free-thinkers in casting off its shackles.

Chapter - 7 A Coda: How Morality Ends

IF YOU ARE not convinced so far, perhaps a final barrage will do. As atheist David Livingstone Smith says in his book, The Most Dangerous Animal: Human Nature and the Origins of War, “However, there is another, darker dimension of the relationship between war and morality. Aggressors are often inspired by moral feelings. They conceive of war primarily as a moral campaign… Consider Adolph Hitler. In the minds of many people, he represents the very model of evil. But Hitler did not set out to do evil, but to deliver the word from depravity. ‘Theater, art, literature, cinema, press, posters and window displays,’ he righteously declared, ‘must be cleaned of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political and cultural idea’” (Smith, p. 130).

Dr. Smith goes on in his disquisition, “The Khmer Rouge purified Cambodia of nearly two million human beings in the 1970s. It was, according to Francois Ponchard, in his harrowing book Cambodia: Year Zero, ‘the translation into action of a particular vision of man: a person who had been spoiled by a corrupt regime cannot be reformed, he must be physically eliminated from the brotherhood of the pure.’ War is almost always conceived as a battle between good and evil (we are the good, they are the evil)…” (ibid, p.130). Noting cases like those above, and many others, Smith then asks, “Why is it that moral passions so often spawn terror, slaughter, destruction, and oppression?” (ibid, p.131).

Smith notes that moral objectivism seems to run contrary to our scientific notions. Moral objectivism “is difficult to square with a scientific conception of human nature” (ibid, p.131). In fact, morality is the spawn of entirely irrational passions. Thus, speaking of Twain’s observations, “Many philosophers from Plato to the present, have claimed that moral dilemmas are a struggle between reason and passion, and that morality triumphs only when reason gets the upper hand and pins passions to the mat. But Twain’s account tells a different story. His protagonist does not make a rational decision about the best thing to do. He does not experience a battle between cold reason and hot passion. Instead, his agonized deliberations are a matter of conflicting passions vying for the control of his behavior” (ibid, p. 133). Our moral passions rise up in us as irrational demons trying to get control of us. But evolution has programmed us to override these irrationalities. Just like we toss off the fetters of religion, so to must we pitch our moral chains into the abyss of better-to-be-forgotten days of yor. The dark ages of human history. We don’t believe with Thales that “everything is water,” and neither should we believe in a “right” or a “wrong.” Objectivism and subjectivism fail us here. As Smith notes, “However well-intentioned, the ‘general point of view’ turns out to be a pathetically fragile dam against the mighty tide of passion and prejudice that flows through the human affairs.

To morality the distinctive character of human warfare owes a great deal. “Chimpanzees recognize and attack other members of neighboring communities, but their behavior is never filtered through a web of beliefs about good and evil, pride, humiliation, friends, heroes, villains, and martyrs. No chimpanzee can dream of establishing a master race, of conquering a Holy Land, of seizing non-existent weapons of mass destruction, or of undertaking a kamikaze mission… There is no nonhuman equivalent of notions like manifest destiny … for there is nothing in the cognitive repertoire of any nonhuman species remotely like ‘right’” (ibid, p. 145). Thus morality has caused massive amounts of human suffering that would otherwise not have existed had it not been for such ethical principles.

We can tack on to the above stories about how morality has been the enemy of science. Many examples could be paraded out, but one will suffice. Scientific research was hindered by the fact that many scientists were sent to labor camps (including Lev Landau, later a Nobel Prize winner, who spent a year in prison in 1938–1939) or executed (e.g. Lev Shubnikov, shot in 1937). They were persecuted for their dissident views, not for their research. As we know from the above doccumentation, the Stalinist ideologies were moral ideologies based on beliefs about natural facts regarding the historical status of the communist machine. Moralty has been an enemy of science. Morality poisons everything.

And lastly, what about clitoridectomies? Also known as, female circumcision. In many countries the female sexual organs are mutilated for moral reasons. Men feel that doing this will lesson the chances of extra-marital affairs. Fathers think this will make their daughters less promiscuous. So, due to these moral reasons, women must suffer a lifetime of painful sexual encounters with men who care only about their own satisfaction. Morality poisons everything.

Not only have we seen the destructive and frightening nature of morality, its anti-scientific basis, where have we, in all the literature, seen the moral nihilist involved in these atrocities. Thus, pardon the paradoxical nature of my claim, it looks as if you don’t need morality to be moral. (I speak in your terms, again.) Just as we have left belief in elves, unicorns, alchemy, ghosts, and various tribal deities - of which the god of the Bible is but one member of - behind, so to it is time to leave belief in morals behind. Morality poisons everything.

About The Author

Ethane Wist is contributing editor to the popular magazine I'll Believe in a god when I Believe in a Teapot That Circles the Sun, the journal, I'll Believe in God When Religious Zealots Stop Flying Planes Into Buildings, and contributing writer for the If God Wanted Me to Believe Then He Would Have Written The Bible in the Sky, magazine. He is also a visiting professor of ethics at the University of Spitsbergen. He is the author of numerous books, including Thrasymachus Was a Moral Nihilist, and Stop The Abuse: Refusing to Teach Children Ethics. He was named, much to his merriment, number 5 on numerous lists of the "Top 100 Public Intellectuals."


  1. hostus twinkius12/24/2007 1:33 AM

    What a ding bat.

    I know, it's not an argument, but it needed to be said.

    Carry on...

  2. Nice writing, Paul. I got the joke.

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Ethane Wist = New Atheist

  4. Having read god is not Great myself, I can tell everyone that this post was brilliant. "Ethane Wist" uses almost every single kind of argument against morality that Hitchens uses against religion. Someone here has their finger on the pulse of the New Atheism. Their own arguments have been turned against them. Their own arguments have served to make them look fatuous.

  5. Funny. Enjoyed the "About the Author" part a lot.

  6. great work discomfiter!

    or should I say "quine?"




    or my personal favorite:

    "tool for Christ!"

  7. Rape is immoral.

  8. Rape has survival value.

  9. I especially appreciate the satirical appropriation of a simultaneously condescending and cumbersome verbiage. Kudos!