Monday, 20 April 2015

why I am sympathetic to the pro-life people.

The counter-argument about 'right to bodily integrity' misses a whole bunch of nuances. This post is not researched, it’s just “off the top of my head”.

Problem 1. The concept of human rights is a deontological argument akin to the Ten Commandments. It doesn't state why and on what authority, and for what ultimate end, and on what grounds, human rights even exist. They "just are". While I do not want to say that I disagree with them in content, I disagree with them in form and presentation. For a simple example, compare the right to property vs the right to not starve. Communism, as espoused by the EFF, suggests that the right to not starve trumps the right to property. Indeed, the communist manifesto (as in the one by Marx and Engels) actually states that we must make "despotic inroads" into property rights. So it's not obvious that human rights systems are the best. Moreover, I like to distinguish between provisive rights and defensive rights. The DA stands for defensive rights, e.g. the right of a woman to her bodily integrity, the right of an Afrikaans farmer to keep his 100 ha farm, etc. The EFF stands for the rights of the poor (provisive rights: that if you do not have something it will be provided to you).

Problem 2. It is a false dichotomy. Look. Just because someone has the right to bodily integrity, it does not in fact automatically trump everything else. Sorry for the Reductio ad Hitlerum but - consider the case where you can assassinate Hitler and thereby prevent WWII and 60 million deaths. Would you do it, or would his right to life trump the other 60 million? Is his bodily integrity that sacred? You see, there's no clear easy line over which bodily integrity trumps. Remember the "Beethoven" thought experiment. Poor family, lots of kids, an inconvenient 9th or whatever child is going to be born, and deaf to boot. Abort? Most pro-abortionists say 'yes', and then one pulls the trump card, well, you just aborted Beethoven. You see, it's not that cut and dried.

Problem 3. Socioeconomic. Poorer women will get backstreet jobs, especially in countries that frown upon it legally or for religious reasons, with the result that they're more likely to get horrid infections, death, or failed attempts at the cost of their sexual health (eg mutilation) to no good reason. There's a pro/con analysis to be done here. Obviously in South Africa this isn't an issue, but it is, in catholic and muslim countries (or basically any theocratic-leaning state), which are the majority (populationwise if you add them up). So it's not a simplistic question of "don't you tread on my rights", it's a question of "how, when and where", and will you be worse off afterwards?

I have however heard from a very reliable source (a statistician who works with epidemiology and the relationship between crime, life quality, life expectancy, etc etc)... that in countries, provinces and states which allow abortion, crime is lower. In effect, he said, they're aborting future criminals, since it's largely poorer women who can't afford birth control, and therefore, are unable to effectively raise well adapted citizens. I find this discussion disturbing but I can see that how it is supposed to work. However, I find it hard to not see this as coextensive with giving a death sentence for future potential crimes — which strikes me as rather brutal. Put it another way: it’s pre-emptively killing poor people just in case they commit crimes. Ethically I find that problematic. The excuse, of course, is that it's not a punishment meted out for actions yet to be performed, like precrime in Minority Report, but merely that there's a correlation between legal abortion and lower crime rates (i.e. it's not a causal or moral imperative, just a correlation).

Problem 4. A related problem to point 1. If moral skepticism, which I am sympathetic to, is plausible, that is, that the moral amounts to no more than biological harm, it seems to me that if moral = biological prosperity, and evil = biological harm, then it follows that abortion is evil. Think of all the cases of 'evil'; they all fall under biological harm: rape, murder, armed robbery, assault, etc., all involve someone getting physically hurt. In the case of abortion, like carnivory, some small creature is destroyed for convenience. I think that if it is true that 'evil' amounts to biological harm, plus a prohibition against that, then it follows that abortion is evil. However, since I am in fact a moral skeptic, I don't think there's such a thing as good and evil only biological harm and biological prosperity. As such, I think it is debatably justifiable to abort IFF the potential child will face a life of misery: to wit:

if it is guaranteed by empirical testing to be mentally disabled or physically disabled and therefore have a long difficult life and be denied a prosperous normal life, but rather face one of great suffering (the antinatalist position);

if it is a conjoined twin and unlikely to be separable postpartum, for the same reasons as above;

if it is the result of a rape and therefore will be stigmatised and abused by its parents and family;

if it is the result of incest and will therefore have genetic diseases.

The trouble with these types of justification is that there's a morally problematic way to describe them: Eugenicist. Hitler was also in favour of eugenics. Does this mean that eugenics are wrong? That's a separate debate, but one of the reasons often given by the pro-abortion lobby is that eugenic reasons can trump the foetus' right to life as well. So— if you are in favour of allowing abortion, do you support eugenics, antinatalism, or just a woman's rights? I think you have to commit to one of these positions because you can only justify abortion with one of these positions.

Naturally, I have the privilege of being in a long-term relationship, so my opinions here are moot. I recognise that possibly few women are in a situation where they can rely on support. Hence I do not pass judgment on women who make this decision. I have merely, above, given some of my reasons why I think the "right to life" vs "right to bodily integrity" is an unsophisticated argument.

Saturday, 18 April 2015


In response to the antinatalists, e.g. Benatar, Shiffrin (I’ve not given this any research, this is just off the top of my head), I’d like to propose pronatalism, that is, that you ought to have children.

Antinatalism is the view that giving birth is always wrong as you are imposing/forcing a lifetime of suffering on a new being which would not have suffered had it not been born. Strong versions of antinatalism argue that one should in fact abort all pregnancies to prevent this harm.

Pronatalism objects:

1. If humans are the only beings of great moral worth that we know of (e.g. greater than whales, dogs, chimps), it follows that by creating more humans we are increasing the moral value of earth, and therefore the overall moral goodness in the universe;

2. Statistically I think it is false. Only persons in third world conditions suffer more than they enjoy life; claiming otherwise is hyperbole and supports at most the problem of evil against theism; it does not support the view that we should pre-emptively kill foetuses to prevent them being born, or always use contraceptives.

3. Antinatalism is coextensive with genocide, or amounts at least to pre-emptive genocide.

4. Each human generally has great potential to become something great and thereby improve life on earth. Granted, most humans are wasteful and damage the environment. However, were we to properly create education systems and give such education to all persons, we could create billions of benevolent beings that improve life on earth. Pre-emptively killing persons prevents this possible great good.

5. Antinatalism entails the extinction of all sentient animal species. Since all animals of any moral value are also sentient animals, e.g. mammals, antinatalism entails that to prevent animals suffering (as they will), we should make all animals extinct, or at least prevent their giving birth by making all animals sterile. This is absurd. Antinatalism could even be taken to be arguing that only plants should exist.

6. It may not be the case that suffering and evil are the same thing, and therefore, that even if evil ought to not be done, it does not follow that suffering ought to not be experienced (i.e. I reject utilitarianism). For example, the suffering of a burn on a hot stove is a necessary evil without which we would not survive, and therefore it promotes our pleasure.

7. It does not seem true to me that evil and good, and suffering and pleasure, are commensurable. I do not believe, for example, that any suffering I have experienced outweighs the pleasure I get from my child greeting me. And yes, I have suffered far worse than you may care to imagine; I consider all my past sufferings to be naught by comparison.

8. I do not see that antinatalism can account for sadomasochism. I believe some people genuinely derive pleasure from pain, and therefore that his account of suffering, pleasure, good and evil, do not gel with reality. They are naïve models.

9. I do not accept the additive or Benthamite model of utilitarianism, that is, that we can tally our suffering, tally our pleasures, and say that the bottom line is that all lives are more suffering than pleasure. Benatar adduces scientific evidence that we overlook just how much we suffer, but I do not believe this can work unless we accept a Benthamite additive model.

10. Whilst this contradicts (1) and 3) above, I am a moral skeptic. I do not see that suffering entails that we ought to not exist, and that pleasure entails that we ought to exist. Our existence is a brute fact of biology and evolution, as are our persistent attempts to stay alive despite suffering. “Ought” does not enter into it. If anything, for evolutionary reasons, we ought to be able to suffer. Therefore, since, as argued above, suffering promotes our survival, suffering is not evil, but a necessary side effect of being alive, and part of the evolutionary process.

11. Benatar’s argument requires conclusive or gnostic atheism, given the drastic nature of his recommendations/views. If you’re going to abort every pregnancy on the grounds that the child’s life will be mostly suffering, you need to first establish that the suffering is not for example God’s way of testing the childs’ worthiness of heaven, or that God did not give you the capacity or pregnancy itself with a divine inscrutible purpose. Just giving a low probability to theism won’t do; Benatar has to refute theism, and show that there is no heaven, because of the severity of his exhortations.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

open letter to Film and Publications Board on censoring the internet in South Africa

I’ve read the above regulations. And while I can see that the interests of the children are at heart, speaking as a parent myself, I must say I think you are wasting your time and are merely going to kick up a huge amount of opposition to this legislation.
I am an ICT expert with 30 years’ experience. 

The first and most obvious problem is most of the content is foreign, so any south african laws cannot be enforced; they’ll just ignore your demands for “assessment”.

Let me tell you why you cannot enforce this and will not succeed, and will end up annoying everyone rather than achieving your goal.
1. Youtube. I’ve seen figures between 120 million and 500 billion as the quantity of videos. In either case, it is not possible in a human lifetime for anyone to watch all of those to decide which have failed to pass acceptable standards of the FPB. In particular, many videos are no longer maintained by their authors, nor will their authors yield to demands to submit the material for review by FPB. Nor will you have the man-hours available, even if you hire the entire adult population of our country, to police, view or censor the videos. There is nothing you can do, short of blocking youtube as North Korea, Iran, and other similar states do.
2. Bittorrent. You cannot really stop Bittorrent. It uses randomised TCP/IP port numbers, meaning that you’d have to block all TCP/IP ports above the reserved ports to stop it. If you do this, however, web responses won’t come through and the web will stop working, since the reply to a TCP/IP request from a web browser comes in on a non-reserved port, usually in the 20000s, which is the same port range Bittorrent uses. Furthermore, Bittorrent contains encrypted portions of files, so for any packet of Bittorrent data, you cannot tell what it contains; it could be something completely legitimate, e.g. a Linux distro.
3. Games. Apple’s App Store contains over 260 000 games. Are you going to individually contact all those game developers and demand that they submit to your review? Do you have the manpower to review that many games? Suppose a person reviews 1 game every 10 minutes. Suppose they take a 1-hour lunch break, and work 7 hours a day. That means they can review 42 games per day. You will need a staff of about 6200 to review all the app store games in one day. If you want to do it within one year, you will need about 17 staff members just for that. Assuming an annual salary of R 300 000 each, your salary budget per month just to check existing games will be R 5 m. However, since the app store has existed for about 7 years, this means that about 37000 games are added per annum - so you will need an additional person per month just to keep up with the new games coming in (assuming that it’s not exponential, i.e. that the number of games is not doubling each year, which it may well be… i.e.:
app store year 1: 4062
app store year 2: 8 125
app store year 3: 16 250
app store year 4: 32 500
app store year 5: 65 000
app store year 6: 130 000 
app store year 7: 260 000
app store year 8: 520 000
as you can see from the above figures, it’s quite plausible that it might be doubling every year. In which case, you’ll need 34 staff members next year, and then 68 the year after that, and then 136 the year after, etc.
Of course, you CAN just tell Apple and Google to not allow game access to South Africa unless developers explicitly approach you themselves to have their games reviewed. Since the middle class market for mobile app games in this country can’t be more than about 2m people, and assuming that only 10% have iPhones, that means that about 200 000 people will be irritated by your legislation because most apple developers won’t bother (the market is too small to care). I don’t think you want to deal with 200 000 angry phone calls.
4. Videos generated by end-users, e.g. selfies, amateur porn, etc. There’s still nothing to stop people making their own videos within South Africa and sharing them. You cannot stop this, or censor it. Almost every cellphone above a basic Nokia can do this. Are you going to remunerate Vodacom, MTN, et al., to view EVERY video and censor it if it contains porn content? You can’t tell without eyeballing it, and again, that imposes a human labour burden on the ISPs. 
5. There are MANY other ways to share files without Bittorrent, e.g. Wetransfer, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. You will have to block all cloud services, again, irritating your entire taxpayer group.
6. Proxying. Anyone who has any clue about using a computer will figure out that you simply need to route your internet through a foreign proxy server, and thereby anonymitize their data, and prevent it from being possible to tell what protocol and what content is being shared.
7. You will push hosting to overseas servers which are in fact cheaper, and damage the south african ISP industry, since people will no longer be able to host adult content inside south africa without first incurring costs to FPB. This is an easy move for people to make, requires that one doesn’t even leave one’s chair, and requires that one doesn’t expose one’s content to FPB for review. It’s just a matter of copying files to a new ISP and changing DNS. This is what local pornographers will do. You will not prevent it.
I predict your legislation will fail and will be unpoliceable due to the sheer volume of data on internet.
I believe this legislation is naive and is unconstitutional in terms of the right to privacy.
I propose, instead, that FPB offers training courses for teachers and for parents on how to recognise use of online porn in children, and where children are vulnerable to stalkers, and similar, and educate parents and teachers in how to prevent it, e.g. by regularly changing their wifi password, regularly inspecting their children’s phones, etc. If you actually want to make some money out of this problem, rather charge for training courses. I am sure many parents ARE concerned about their children accessing porn, but just do not know how to stop it.