What I Believe: 2 Year Update

I’ve remembered about the article What We Believe I wrote two years back, in the early days when I was still writing anonymously (as “stalker”) and was pretending to be a team. Had fun rereading it, almost like a time machine. My views on Russia have remained mostly unchanged. I’ve grown to become somewhat more positive about the legacy of the Soviet Union; like most Russians, I retain the same ambiguous attitude towards Stalin, whom I have described as “the despotic Messiah who led and ruled [Russians] like the God of the Old Testament”; and I am as convinced as ever of the hypocritical and double standards-laced coverage of subjects like Putin, Chechnya, and Russia’s human rights record in the Western media.

Furthermore, I’ve become much more skeptical about the universalism of liberalism and HR. Two years back I believed the West should be actively involved in cultivating social progress in regards to women’s rights, LGBT rights, etc, in backward areas of the Muslim world; not any more, though I remain a social progressive. It’s just that I’ve recognized that these concepts – liberalism, HR, etc – are but manifestations of a specific Romano-Germanic (Western) culture, and do not necessarily have much resonance with the cultural traditions of other civilizations. In some cases the cultural clash between the two leaves produced nothing but destruction. Other civilizations should be left free to forge their own path into the iron cage of modernity, or not.

Far more interesting was reading my own “General Values” from two years ago, back when the world was so different and global neoliberalism appeared to be at high noon – whereas in reality it is near sunset, in large part due to the imminence of peak oil and the creeping insolvency of Pax Americana. I too have changed a lot. Reading about myself from back then is almost like listening to a highly familiar, but nonetheless different, person. From economic centrism, of the Krugmanite variety, to Green Communism. From atheism to pantheism. Lots more postmodernist claptrap. Etc. Let me outline my beliefs two years on.

Political Compass

Da Russophile is economically centrist, extremely liberal socially and supportive of liberal democracy, albeit with an authoritarian streak. We are Economic Left/Right: -1.25, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -3.59 on the Political Compass test.

Make that economically leftist, extremely liberal socially, and with an interpretation of political power that is much freer from forced categorization. Who is more democratic, the deaf “liberal” ideologue with a 5% approval rating or the post-ideological pragmatist / semi-authoritarian uniter with an 80% approval rating?* The post-historical “liberal democratic” country ran by socialist oligarchs or an unelected “deliberative dictatorship” that acts on opinion polls and executes corrupt officials using mobile execution buses? For what it’s worth, I am now Economic Left/Right: -9.50, Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.28 on the Political Compass. Quite a shift leftward if there ever was one.

Theophilosophy

We are atheists and have a secular worldview. We do not think religion is useful for anything other than some of its aesthetic aspects (like choral music and icons)…

I no longer agree with this at all. All worldviews are valid from within their own frames of reference. The Christianity of the Middle Ages – as reflected in the sublimity of their holy rites, the dark Gothic splendor of the cathedrals rising above the plains, etc – had at least as much meaning and validity to the West European peasant mind, as does the science-rationalism of the Machine to the modern Faustian mind. I have come to appreciate this, in a postmodern way, and have now embraced pantheism; all religions have validity, they are all slivers of one indivisible, unbounded whole, the Void. In particular, I appreciate Orthodox Christianity for its aesthetics, and the great Eastern philosophical religions – Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism. I think there is great potential in synthesizing traditional belief with secular mythologies such as Marxism, achieving a sublation that reconciles social and cultural progress with eternal transcendental values and ideals such as the sobornost (the just social contract) and natural balance (ecological homeostasis, in the scientific jargon).

Death Penalty

Our position on the death penalty is that it is wrong out of a) humanitarian concerns (that is, death row syndrome) and b) the impossibility of making 100% sure that innocents are never executed. Nonetheless, we recognize that there is a (one) valid justification for the death penalty – deterrance. This applies particularly to those countries where violent crime is at very high levels (South Africa, Columbia, etc). We also accept its use as a deterrant against corruption, as is the case in China and Vietnam – this is because corruption also kills people, if indirectly. Since our goal is deterrance (rather than ‘moral’ reasons of ‘eye for an eye’ retribution), we see this as merely being consistent.

I have to admit I tend to oscillate in my support for the death penalty. At some moments I feel all humane and sentimental. At other points I follow the logic above, and support it for: murder, serial rape, child rape, human trafficking, treason, and gross corruption & sabotage (on the scale of >10mn $, say). After all, is it not an affirmation of a higher and noble form of love for one’s people, the love inherent in self-sacrifice, to vouch for the death penalty (which is an objective form of deterrent), despite one’s moral scruples?

Another idea I’ve had on this topic is to determine guilt by the standard jury method, but let the people decide the punishment. So the bad guy / gal gets to make an impassioned televised plea to the nation electronically voting on the punishment. If (s)he is convincing and / or pitiable enough, the sentence gets adjusted from the death penalty to community service, psychiatric treatment, flogging, deportation to the Canadian gulags, and reality TV gladiator death games like in the dystopian movies (maybe not). And it’s all very democratic. BTW, another thing – the current prison system should be eliminated or at least massively downsized.

Anyhow, reality supersedes individual beliefs. The social rifts that will be inevitably opened up by the shocks of peak oil and its consequences will probably lead to the reintroduction of the death penalty throughout Europe, and the expansion of its use elsewhere (e.g. for corruption and sabotage, which become far more serious issues in a world of scarcity and limits to growth).

Abortion

We are in favor of full abortion rights, since it is our opinion that a) women should have full sovereignty over their own bodies and b) that a clump of human cells with no self-awareness should not be considered a person with rights. We view restrictions on abortion as violations of human rights.

I will take this opportunity to expound on an old idea of mine for a new ethics for the Information Age (though I can’t say I fully subscribe to it).

This is a values system based on patterns. Every human individual is an extraordinarily complex and interesting pattern. A pattern, formally defined, is a set of rules which can be used to generate things – the pattern is said to exhibit itself if the things created have enough in common for the underlying rules to be inferred. Hence, we can treat a specifically adult human pattern as a soul (with its capacity of around 10^26 calculations per second and specific software or neural makeup), and the set of all patterns in our universe as the Pattern; the values system will be based on patterns and their particular relationship, in complexity, interest and ‘meaningfulness’, to a soul; over time, of course, the latter two concepts will evolve with the whole Pattern. This opens up a Pandora’s box of possible repercussions, but they are all containable and can be used to justify a range of propositions.

For instance, abortion is permissible because the pattern of a human foetus is negligibly small compared with the soul of the mother-to-be; it is directly comparable to that of lower animals, depending on the state of its development. Outright banning abortion will inflict much greater net sin because of the psychological damage to the soul, and its possible total termination due to unsafe backstreet abortions. Furthermore, it can save souls by lowering the murder rate, as maintained by Steven Levitt… Nonetheless, such an ethics system does not make killing a human baby equivalent to killing, say, a parrot with the intelligence of a five year old, so long as the aforementioned baby has souls heavily devoted to it; by terminating it, one removes the neural connections stimulated or used to communicate with the baby, so one in fact destroys a significant part of several souls through such a deed.

This new ethics can be summarized with a rather freehanded conversion of Asimov’s original Three Laws of Robotics – these will be the Three Laws of the New Ethics.

  1. Preserve existing patterns.
  2. Expand patterns in scope and complexity unless it conflicts with the First Law.
  3. Future patterns also have value, but their sum converges to a limit.

The inevitable question – doesn’t this apply to the death penalty? Not really. While the death penalty destroys a soul (Law 1), the deterrent effect preserves a lot more further down the road (Law 3)

Drugs

Da Russophile supports a gradual decriminalization of all drugs. We consider ‘wars on drugs’, like ‘wars on terrors’, to be a cover for infringements on human rights and state corruption. Licensing them will take money away from criminal organizations and bolster government funds, which can be directed towards healthcare (including treating drug addicts). Marijuana, LSD and ecstasy are fun things and as such little different in essence from alcohol and tobacco, which are legal out of the force of tradition. We would also tax the fat, salts and sugar content in foods so as to cut heart disease and cancer rates and create incentives to move to healthier diets.

Yes, bring on the fat tax and libertarian drug laws.

Economic Philosophy

We would best be described as economic centrists, though in general we like to steer clear of labels, preferring to judge policies on their own merits. We support liberal ‘ease of doing business’ laws (e.g. on unemployment, starting up companies, etc) and private participation in the social sphere, e.g. healthcare, education, etc. In general, we oppose government subsidies to failing industries, preferring instead that they invest money into retraining workers. However, we support an extensive welfare state that would shield everyone and anyone in case of crisis – our role model is mostly Scandinavian.

Global capitalism, however thickly sugar-coated with socialism / welfarism, is incapable of resolving its fundamental contradiction – that economic growth is its essence, and thus ecological overshoot and collapse are inevitable barring a technological silver bullet, i.e., a deux ex machine. Read my post on Green Communism.

Trade & Protectionism

We support free trade so as to achieve the optimal division of labor and hence prosperity in the world.

Free trade is only good if it’s really free, which it is not. So I retract this. And let’s not even go into the energy and ecological costs of the freighter fleets and air transports fueling the global consumerist orgy.

Feminism

We support the goals of the feminist movement and consider that gender equality has not yet been achieved anywhere. Men are still more valued as bread-winners and women-more as home-makers, and changing these social perceptions is one of our goals.

Some musings I wrote on this, again quite a while back – a Hegelian interpretation of herstory.

Consider the dialogue of power between the sexes. In prehistoric societies, women held a rough balance of power, apparently independently procreating, augmenting the sustenance base through forage and practising medicine from the derived knowledge of plant properties. However, men’s focus on animal domestication – derived from their previous hunting specialization – drew their attention to the link between animal copulation and reproduction. Women came to be seen as mere vessels, defined as unwilling and unable to participate in battles for pure prestige and hence entirely subhuman. Furthermore, harsher tribal societies based on herding tended to subjugate agricultural societies and so embed their values upon their submissive populations. By the times of the Old Testament women were little more than chattel in the most advanced cradle of civilization, the Near East.

However, after thousands of years, Christianity (and Islam) came to be widely adopted: both proclaimed theoretical spiritual equality between everyone. In time the image of women was transformed into the ‘Lady’ of courtly love, an object of admiration and worthy of respect that was to continue on into the industrial era as the Victorian ‘angel of the house’, moral agent of cleanliness and sobriety. Yet the social agitation of the industrial ‘wage-slaves’ resulted in a clamour for extension of the democratic franchise, a wing of which included the suffragettes. The first part of the twentieth century saw the franchise extended to women in much of the advanced world, with a few local exceptions like Switzerland; the second part witnessed the active promotion of social equality between the sexes, enabled above all by the Pill (a facet of technology) that allowed the liberated feminist to reassert her own sexuality.

Hence we observe that the major step changes in feminist history – vessel, lady and woman – coincide with both social (slavery, feudalism and capitalism) and economic (agriculture, basic mechanization, industrialism) paradigm shifts, even though social transformations tends to be both blurred and lag behind economic changes. ‘Herstory’ is the collective history of the female thymos – the combined desire of women to achieve recognition as human beings and to reject their epithet as the ‘second sex’. That is the world-historical mission of the feminist movement, which has always existed even if it only recognized itself for what it was just two hundred years ago with the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and other visionaries.

Things are now returning back to the future, which is a cyber-primitivist one, the circle returns to the original point but higher up (or lower down) on the spiral of history. Perhaps the circle will be broken entirely by the development of an artificial womb (more research and experiments should be done on this).

Limits to Growth

It is obvious that global warming is both real and anthropic. Furthermore, the latest research implies that it is catastrophic, threatning to go out of control once it passes certain tipping points – which may well have been passed already. Hence, man-made emissions, by raising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and thus causing global warming, can trigger other mechanisms that will release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – frozen methane clathrates under the world’s seas, methane in the Siberian permafrost and Indonesian peat bogs, and the vast amount of carbon locked into the world’s tropical forests. …

Yes, but even more so; I know support a global policy of “sustainable retreat” from industrialism in search of Green Communism. Furthermore, unlike 2 years back when I was a relative optimist on the energy front, I am now a full-blown “peaker” on oil and resource issues. It shows.

Other Issues

Unfortunately, LGBT rights are weak…

Yes.

We support testing on animals.

But with a lot more reservations and strict conditions than which I had in my days of tunnel-minded faith in the religion of science. We should recognize that pharmaceutical industries are bloated and corrupt; that in many cases traditional alternative approaches produce better results; and that in some sense (e.g. growing antibiotic resistance), industrial-era medicine is going down a dead alley. Quite literally.

We are against censorship.

At least in principle.

We are against gun control, since we think than an armed citizenry tends to reduce the crime rate. However, we insist on licensing and would stop short of allowing full-automatics to be sold.

Remove the full-automatics bit. One can never have too many guns.

For more on my beliefs, especially those related to Russia and being afflicted with a diasporic mentality, see my interview @ Siberian Light.

* E.g., Yushchenko and Putin, respectively.

Edit 2013: Needless to say I no longer agree with a lot of this.

Comments

  1. “I’ve become much more skeptical about the universalism of liberalism and HR”

    I’ve had a similar evolution, but more gradually (i.e. over many years), and more on pragmatic grounds than on philosophical ones. I still think human rights are fine things and that democracy is better than dictatorship; I’m just very skeptical of the notion that they can be imposed from outside. History shows that such attempts often do more harm than good, and wind up exhausting and compromising both the imposer and the imposee.

  2. By the way, if you really do make “kickass burritos,” then we need you in Moscow. What passes for Mexican food here is pretty weak.

  3. Interesting retrospective, just a few points (rushed alas).

    -As for left/ right, this is something I may write about a bit more. I’ve become more socially conservative with age but also more ‘left wing’ in being sceptical of the free market in its own terms: it’s claims to create full employment, to be self-regulating and to be inherently more efficient.

    How far this has seeped into my views, I don’t know: I support renationalising Britain’s railways and manufacturing. But I still think there is a place for a strong private sector.

    I still feel very queasy about ‘left wing’ culture, which seems horribly smug, consensual and self-aggrandising. Incidentally, not strongly nationalisation, and I think this is a sign of how it has eroded into a kind of cult where people try to find they agree on everything (for something of a disclaimer, there is also an ‘interesting left’ as I see it, and I like to think I am a part of it, but it is marginal). Maybe we share something in that we are agnostic about the ethical superiority of socialism over capitalism, but think that socialism has a structural superiority over capitalism.

    -‘Global capitalism, however thickly sugar-coated with socialism / welfarism’

    Does this mean you are beginning to accept my formulation of neo-liberal welfarism ;-)

    Being British I think plays some role to my dislike of neo-liberalism. We have little manufacturing, weak unions, privatised (though subsidised) transport and Mrs T is regarded as a semi-divine being. Yet we also have exhaustive CCTV, strict gun-laws and a large government database. And a large unemployed (unemployable?) sector.

    -Disagree re abortion, but then we’ve already had a bit of a stalemate over that.

    -However, I find ‘animal’ rights more interesting. I am against factory farming and vivisection, but I believe as a Christian that humans have dominion over animals. I find it difficult to understand the atheist position on animal rights, and in some ways I’d have thought materialism renders the word ‘animal’ meaningless. Actually, I think that stalemate is the normal outcome of bioethics questions, so we’ll probably have to leave it at that.

    -Da Russophile supports a gradual decriminalization of all drugs.
    Not certain about all drugs, but generally I agree and think that the ‘war on drugs’ has an unjustifiable human and economic cost.

    -About social policy, it depends on whether abortion is counted, but aside from that, politically I am socially liberal. I don’t see it as being for the state to go into people’s bedrooms or arrest cannabis addicts. But I also think that churches can play a valuable social role in society. But here it gets complex. I don’t want to be sectarian, but I am not an apologist for all Christian denominations either.

    Just a few thoughts.

  4. “It’s just that I’ve recognized that these concepts – liberalism, HR, etc – are but manifestations of a specific Romano-Germanic (Western) culture, and do not necessarily have much resonance with the cultural traditions of other civilizations.”

    Congratulations on your epiphany. I respect this kind of realism in a “social progressive.” Perhaps in another couple of years you will abandon melioristic fantasies entirely.

    “From economic centrism, of the Krugmanite variety, to Green Communism. From atheism to pantheism.”

    Don’t you need to remove that link on your About Me page to your manifesto about “non-ideological atheism”?

    • You keep track of my beliefs better than I do myself! 8-O

      Erm, anyhow, I’ve added a link to this post at the bottom of About Me.

  5. This is a really interesting exercise, keeping a kind of log of your beliefs and how they change over time. I’d say I’m inspired, but I’m already too old to start.

  6. Sinotibetan says:

    Anatoly,

    I commented on ‘your beliefs 2 years ago’ recently without realising these changes in your beliefs. I am re-posting what I wrote on your previous beliefs – some of which have not changed. Please forgive if I don’t know much about philosophy because I am actually more into science. Thanks.

    Wow….regarding your ‘core beliefs’, I am totally against most of your beliefs! It’s surprising that I agree with you on many things regarding Russia and international politics!

    “We are atheists” vs I am a theist.

    “secular worldview” vs religious worldview(however, Government should be secular and there should be separation of state from religion).

    “We support the goals of the feminist movement” – while the feminist movement was right in exposing abuse of the female gender by the male gender in the past, I oppose their almost militant methods of ‘emasculating’ the male gender while ‘masculinizing’ the female gender. Human beings, biologically-speaking, are sexually dichotomous. Male and female are complementary and although they are equal in many areas, they are non-equal but complementary in others. Inequality is not inferiority but complementary.

    With regards to “female economic participation” – I think employers are not keen to take in females because they think about , perhaps presumed ‘lack of productivity’ in pregnant female workforce and covering their maternity expenses(including sick leave). It’s more of minimal costs with maximal profits consideration rather than thinking females are inferior intellectually – at least in our modern world. It’s a problem of this perception that leads to the ‘gender discrimination’.

    “LGBT rights” – they already have rights to be who they want to be. I construe such relations , excluding my religious beliefs, as biological dead-ends and hence not acceptable. They have the freedom to choose that lifestyle but I disagree that they should be militant about it(“Gay Pride”) nor should they insist that others who oppose or disagree with them ‘accept’ them via legal ramifications. I don’t agree with anti-LGBT who are violent towards them but I oppose same-sex marriage because it legalizes such unions. My view: their choice to carry on with the relationship but NO legal recognition.
    (Some biologists have supposedly ‘proved’ that homosexuality is ‘biological’ – my refutation is : 1.)cancer, ischaemic heart disease, essential hypertension are ‘biological’ yet we try to reverse them; 2.)nature does have errors – and I view homosexuality observed in nature as biochemical/physiological errors 3.)Extrapolating animal ethology into human behaviour is inaccurate because humans have the ability to make choices which are combinations of rational/emotional/physiological/etc. The outcome of the choice depends on which conflicting ‘impulses’ triumph.

    “It is obvious that global warming is both real and anthropic.”
    There is no obvious proof. Being a person who loves science – especially ‘hard science’, I consider climate science to be ‘soft science’ with too many wildly differing models which end up with wildly different conclusions of ‘earth’s future climate’. Global warming is unproven to be anthropic and though it may be real, there is no proof that its worsening will be a sustained one.

    “We are against censorship.” You feed the mind rubbish, you’ll have rubbish thoughts. Humans are by nature evil. But you can teach humans to learn how to do evil things(‘method of evil’). I am not for strict censorship but mild forms of censorship are necessary at times.

    “supports a gradual decriminalization of all drugs”.
    I cannot agree with you on this.
    “Drugs” should be licensed and administered by medical professionals only. “Recreational” use of these drugs should not be allowed. Alcohol and tobacco are bad for health and should be campaigned against. These both should be characterized as ‘drugs’ and comparing them with marijuana, LSD and esctasy is logical. More teneous is comparing these substances to ‘fat, sugar and salts’ – these substances are physiologically needed for health : excessive amounts is the problem, not the substance itself. Campaign against bad, unhealthy diet rather than putting these substances on the same pedestal as ‘recreational drugs’. Marijuana, LSD, esctacy and many ‘recreational drugs’ are not physiologically needed in healthy human beings. Substances not physiologically needed but with potentially adverse ‘side effects’ should be under the care of health professionals only(who know the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of these substances). Apart from the ‘positive’effects of ‘fun’, these ‘drugs’ are associated with serious adverse effects on the user and ultimately on society(the psycho-social negative effects and healthcare costs). Adverse effects of cannabinoids(long term use) : pulmonary tree abnormalities, laryngitis, rhinitis, chronic obstructive airway disease(ie emphysema, chronic bronchitis), ECG abnormalities, low sperm count, ovulation failure and cognitive impairments among others. LSD – acute episodes can lead to erratic behaviour that may lead to injury/death. Esctacy – sympathomimetic effects in moderate use; if intoxicated: sweating, tachycardia(fast heart rate), high BP. mydriasis(pupils enlarged), hyperactivity and acute brain syndrome(confusion/disorientation). Long term use of esctacy can lead to ‘tolerance’ which include – paranoia, stereotypism, tactile hallucination(eg of insect infestation), psychosis with persecutory hallucination which can lead to aggression. Withdrawal symptoms – depression(with suicide ideation), hyperphagia(abnormally eating a lot) and hypersomnia(excessive sleeping). And of course these ‘recreational’ drugs have the problem of dependency. The use of these ‘drugs’ should be regulated only in pathophysiology(ie in illness state) and not to be used as ‘recreation’ in otherwise ‘healthy’ individuals.

    Some of my disagrements with your views. Thanks.

    Sino-tibetan.

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