What’s wrong with torturing sloths for fun?

Most of us are inclined to believe that there are some things that just are right, and some things that just are wrong. It seems true to say that “torturing sloths for fun is wrong”. But what is it that makes it wrong? This is a topic I will go on about at great length if given half a chance, but here I will only outline some of the main theories (and waffle on about them at great length in future posts).

1. Cultural relativism

Cultural relativism argues that “torturing sloths for fun is wrong” because of certain cultural norms that make it morally unacceptable to torture a sentient being just for the fun of it. You might think of it in terms of manners. In some cultures people shake hands when meeting a new person, in others people place their hand on their heart and bow. There is no right or wrong here, it’s just different norms. In the same way, those who favour cultural relativism are inclined to argue that there is no truth regardless of culture. What makes “torturing sloths for fun is wrong” true is that it is culturally taboo to be the sort of person who tortures sloths.

2. Virtue ethics

Alternatively, you might believe that it is not culture that makes it wrong, but rather the fact that you are a human being. Good humans act in a virtuous manner and do not torture sloths for the mere fun of it. It would not be virtuous to torture a sloth, it would be cruel and brutish, and a virtuous person knows not to act in cruel and brutish ways. He should instead foster virtuous behaviour such as generosity, kindness and honesty – especially towards sloths.

3. Kantian ethics

Or you might believe that it is wrong to torture sloths because you cannot rationally will every other person to torture sloths. Before you act you must think “would I want everyone to act in this way?” (the so-called universalisation test) Do you think that it would be alright if everyone was to torture a sentient being for fun? Presumably not, in which case it is wrong. (Although Kant is a little awkward to bring up in an example about animals).

4. Utilitarianism

It could, instead, be that it is wrong to torture sloths because of the pain it gives to the sloth. A utilitarian would argue that maximising pleasure is right and maximising pain is wrong. Therefore, the pain of the sloth would mean that it is wrong to torture sloths for fun.

Notice, however, that a utilitarian has a problem in that a person might enjoy torturing a sloth and he might be in a room full of sadists who gain more pleasure as a group from watching the sloth’s plight that the sloth is in pain. The utilitarian has to do some tricky argumentative gymnastics to hold that “torturing sloths for fun is wrong”, if many people gain pleasure from it.

5. Divine Command Theory

Another option is that what is right and wrong depends on what God commands. If God commands that torturing sloths for fun is wrong, then it is wrong because God has commanded it. Here it is worth noting that those who don’t believe in God are not let off the moral hook. Just as someone who does not believe in gravity still feels its effects, the fact that people don’t believe in God wouldn’t change the fact that it is wrong. There are, however, numerous other problems with God suring up morality that will be explored in another post. (roll on the jolly old Euthyphro Dilemma)

 

This list is hardly exhaustive, but it offers some of the main options open to you if you are inclined to say that “torturing sloths for fun is wrong”. Of course, there are some who argue that it makes no sense to say that “torturing sloths for fun is wrong”. I will save this motely bunch of anti-realists for another day.

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Why First Past the Post caused Brexit

For anyone who is young, idealistic and cheerful, I would not recommend visiting Britain at the moment. There is a pall of gloom in the air, mainly because a misguided political gamble by a handful of elites in the Tory party has lurched our country off a cliff. Those who grabbed the steering wheel have no idea how to avoid the crunch and those relegated to the backseat are wringing their hands and praying that we get another referendum on whether we have a soft landing.

In a previous post, I laid out how we got into this rather unfortunate situation, but now taking another self-righteous stride backwards, and, taking what one might call the long view, I would suggest that the real cause of our troubles is a seemingly innocuous element of our constitution, namely our electoral system.

The UK has First Past the Post. I go into this profoundly bizarre system elsewhere, but the long and short of it is that one party can get 35% of the vote and receive 65% of the seats in parliament, while another party gets 12% of the vote and only receives one solitary MP.

Proponents of the FPTP argue that one of the benefits is that it prevents extreme parties being represented in parliament. For example, UKIP, a thoroughly undesirable bunch of xenophobes and Little Englanders, are a party we don’t want sitting on those blush seats. So the Conservatives argued that a system of proportional representation would lead to UKIP getting 60-80 seats in parliament. Cue moral outrage from decent middle class folk.

It might seem very sensible to exclude a party with thoroughly unethical and bigoted ideas. The only problem is that at the 2015 election 4 million people voted for them, and in return for 4 million votes they received exactly one MP. This lead to a perfectly understandable groundswell of resentment and frustration with the British political system among UKIP’s electorate. Those that were then ostracised and excluded mobilised and collectively thumbed their nose at the political establishment that had ignored them for so long. The Brexit vote was to a large extent a scream of frustration from people who feel they have not been listened to.

Brexit was caused by FPTP the post in a direct way: because Cameron was scared of Labour coming through the middle in some constituencies, he promised people that the only way of getting a referendum was a vote for him. But it was also caused by FPTP in this indirect way because a majoritarian system ignores large parts of the population and that resentment will come out sooner or later. The same sort of thing happened in another country with a majoritarian voting system – the States.

Good old Blightly, we have an electoral system that manages to keep out parties from government that want to hamper our economy by restricting immigration, want to endorse little Englandism by forcing companies to declare foreign workers, want to wreck poorer parts of the country by cutting benefits. Good job we’re able to keep a party like that out of power with FPTP…

Why Brexit happened

June last year the Brits rather upset political pundits, betting markets, our international allies and common sense by voting to leave the EU. I will save the reasons for this decision for another post (/rant), but I thought I’d start this jolly (and not at all bitter) series by laying out why Britain decided to hold a referendum in the first place.

In the heady and blissful days of 2013, the Conservatives were in a coalition government with the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems are pretty relaxed about the EU, but the Conservatives have always been rather divided on the issue of Europe, to put it mildly.

The Conservatives were facing an electoral challenge from a smaller anti-EU party called UKIP. In fact, in 2013 it seemed like the Labour Party’s best chance to win an election would be the Conservatives losing votes to UKIP and pro-EU Labour coming through the middle.

So in darkened smoke-filled room the Conservative elite figured out an ingenious strategy: They would promise to hold a referendum on EU membership if they won the 2015 election. If you wanted to leave the EU, they argued, you shouldn’t vote for the anti-EU party, but for the Conservatives, because then you would get the referendum you so badly craved, and if Labour won there would be no referendum.

The then Prime Minister could tell older provincial people that he had their back while telling financiers, who were reasonably worried about planting a bomb under the UK economy “No worries, we’ll win the referendum, unite the party, cut your taxes and reach for the champagne.” Nudge nudge, wink wink. All good so far.

It also seemed likely in 2013 that the Conservatives would need the support of the Lib Dems to stay in power after the 2015 election. The Lib Dems would never support a referendum on EU membership, because they’re imminently sensible and don’t have a wing of old fogies harking back to the days of empire. (Comes with the liberal turf, I suppose).

It seemed, then, that this was a great, low risk strategy to win voters. However, it turned out the plan worked a little too well. Partly as a result of their carefully designed message, the Conservatives won the election, had to hold the referendum and managed to lose it!

That is briefly how we came to have a referendum. In coming posts I will explore more deep-seated reasons for why the UK, usually so content with following authority sent a massive two fingers up to Conservatives and their crew of high financiers and political elite.

What happened in the Norwegian General Election?

In September the Norwegians went to the polls for their General Election. The result was that the current Prime Mninster, Erna Solberg, stays in position with her Conservative-Populist coalition. Their supporting parties, the Christians ans the Liberals, have been somewhat diminished so it may prove harder for her to get legislation through (more on this in future posts). To begin with though, let’s pick over the results.

Red 2.4% 1 seat: As I’ve mentioned before the commies often get good poll results, but then fail on the last hurdle when it comes down to election day. They’ll be pleased, therefore, to have managed to gain a seat this time round. Although only one seat in Parliament still means they have to wait a while before the system of parliamentary democracy falls – at least now they can try to bring it down from within.

Socialists 6.0% 11 seats: A very good result for the Socialists. They will be delighted to have improved on their downward trajectory of the last three elections. However, they are, and ought to be, fuming that Labour Party let them down so sorely. They did their part, but Labour failed to do theirs to get a change of government for the socialist side.

Labour 27.4% 49 seats: This is a very poor result for the Labour Party. Their worst showing as an opposition party since 1924. The message was off, their image was off, they wish their leader had been off. It all went badly in short. To be fair, the Norwegian economy is going better and, given that, it would be hard to turf out a government. But Labour did know the economy was going better and had plenty of time to move away from the ‘end is nigh’ narrative they ended up going with.

Farmers 10.3% 19 seats: In a manner that never ceases to amaze this party of wolly-pully wearers resonated with a large number of people. Presumably people who think Norway’s economy should still be based on sheepherding and wolf baiting, but voters nonetheless. The Farmers managed to rally those against the Conservatives’ attempts to take Norway’s local government system out of the 1800s in a most effective way and will be delighted with their result. However, as with the Socialists, that delight will be tempered with anger that they nearly doubled their size, but the Labour Party’s woes mean they can’t enter government.

Greens 3.2% 1 seat: The green tsunami was more of a green splash. Many opinion polls had the Greens over the magical 4% mark, but sadly they were unable to make it over and their solitary MP will wonder the palaces of the mighty searching for Parliament recycling bins in which to drop their manifesto.

Christians 4.2% 8 seats: Having been piously glancing left and right in search of allies the party leaders should have paid greater attention to their own voters. In short the party elite are full of well meaning Christians with earnest expressions, clasped hands and lofty ideas about values and the importance of human dignity. They were quite happy to tempt the cuddly left side of politics with their centrist kingmaking ability. But, their voting base is made up by rednecked biblebashers in the south and west. A far cry from the well-meaning Oslo and Bergen elites of the party’s leadership. As a result they fell between two stools as many of the rednecks who wanted to go back to 1800 opted for the Farmers and the more immigrant-hating rednecks went for the Populists.

Liberals 4.4% 8 seats: “The only thing that needs explaining in Norwegian politics is why everyone doesn’t vote for the Liberals” – this is an old adage of Norwegian politics and it’s completely true. The Liberals try to be all things to all people; they love the environment, they love small businesses, they love schools, and researchers? Give us plenty of them too. The problem is that no one really listens to them. Or usually that is the case at least. Although this result is low, it is the first time in decades that they have made it over the 4% threshold two elections in a row. So kudos for that, I guess, even it did come from lots of Conservative voters holding their nose.

Conservatives 25.0% 45 seats: Speaking of the Conservatives, they did really rather well. Their Prime Minister stays in and is looking more and more with-it by the day. She is calm, collected, knows her policies in and out. Rather refreshing in a world were policy wonks are having a hard time shining through (see Trump and Brexit whatever the consequences). On the down side, the Oslo boys sipping champagne on daddy’s yacht will have to keep their braincell whirring to figure out how to deal with this new electoral situation, but that’s alright, they have the intoxicating access to power and pappy’s Chablis to get them through.

Populists 15.2% 27 seats: After a bit of a slump mid-election cycle the Populists have bounced back and have made a roaring trade on xenophobia and fear of immigrants and refugees. The election campaign started off with a debate about Norwegian values and how much brown cheese was needed on a waffle to make it fully Norwegian. The Populists made hay on that debate among people who feel unable to enjoy their waffles knowing that there are foreigners around who might take their waffles from them and try to put foreign muck like salami on them. But yes, I suppose that’s around 15% of voters, which is fine in the grand scheme of things.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I got it so wrong?

So, the first thing to say is that my election prediction was completely wrong. Not wrong, as in “A couple of seats off for each party”, but wrong as in “the course of UK history would have been different if I had been right” sort of wrong.

Given my previous record, you might have expected a bit of caution on my part. Brexit, Trump and Corbyn. I have been completely off on all of them. I’m sure this inspires great confidence, but at least I am now able to write some observations on just how wrong I was.

First off, my prediction was a Conservative majority of 72. The result was in fact a Conservative majority of minus 8 or put more simply, they fell short of a majority.

So, where did it all go wrong? Let’s pick over my predictions.

Conservatives: 42.4% – 318 seats (prediction = 44% – 361 seats)

My prediction for the Conservatives wasn’t too far off. I anticipated that their unthinking ‘Brexit means Brexit’, ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’ and flag waving platitudes would see them do very well. To an extent I was right, but where they fell short was in how well the Labour Party did. May thought she would trounce Corbyn for being unfit to be Prime Minister, but following seven years of Tory misrule and a rocky Brexit process she was the one who seemed unfit to people. May’s gamble, like Cameron’s gamble backfired massively.

Labour: 40.0% – 262 (My prediction: 33% – 212 seats)

I was as surprised as anyone at just how well the Labour Party did at this election. I imagined that May’s constant talk of Corbyn’s record and repeating the mantra of being ‘strong and stable’ would see them through. In fact, the result is like getting the first whiff of spring in the eternal winter of Narnia. I am very impressed (and pleased) with just how well Labour did, but someone ought to break it to them that they didn’t actually win and that against such an ineffectual government willingly embracing self-harming Brexit they really ought to be aiming to win, not avoid calamity.

Lib Dem: 7.4% – 12 seats (My prediction: 8% – 9 seats)

Here my prediction wasn’t too far off.  The Lib Dems had been hoping to mop up all those die-hard Remainers out there, but many of them ended up supporting the Brexit-supporting Labour Party instead. Funny old world.

UKIP: 1.8% – 0 seats (My prediction: 5% – 0 seats)

UKIP’s utter meltdown was more extreme than I expected, although they did win he anticipated number of seats (i.e. zero). Contrary to my prediction, UKIP voters didn’t go en masse for the Tories and instead split 50-50 to Labour and the Tories. Surprising maybe, but then many UKIP voters were Northern working class people who recoil at the idea of ever voting Tory. Maybe some of them thought, “The Brexit battle is won, now we need half-decent social services and a government that actually cares about people like us.” The idea of UKIP being a gateway drug from Labour to the Tories was not all it was cracked up to be.

Green: 1.2% – 1 seat (My prediction: 2% – 2 seats)

This result was probably the easiest to get right, nevertheless I went and got it wrong. I thought the Greens would hold onto Brighton Pavilion (which they did) and also take Bristol West (which they not). In fact, Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire in Bristol West got a majority of over 37,000, enough not only to cling on, but to build a small maisonette out of her votes and still have enough to beat the Greens with.

So the one prediction I could get on the nose fairly easily, I was also wrong on.

SNP: 35 seats (My prediction: 48 seats)

In a bizarre (and, were the circumstances different, amusing) turn of events, the only reason May is still in Downing Street is because of Scotland. Had the Tories lost all of their seats in England and not picked up any in Scotland, Corbyn might well be measuring drapes and putting his sandals on the shoe rack in number ten. It also lays dead the question of independence for the foreseeable future.

 

In summary, I was wrong, and wrong by quite a long way. This is good news in that usually when I’m wrong, I depress myself. This time there is a glimmer of hope that next time round “one-more-heave Corbyn” will come up trumps.