On the barstool
I’m at the bar, rather than my usual box outside the door. Management will probably like this. I think today is a day for bourbon (aren't they all?).
I like it here. People listen, and not just to be polite. It’s nice to feel more than tolerated.
This week has progressed slowly; I know it’s only Tuesday, but it feels like it should be further along than that. We’re still trying to find a medication regimen that can make me productive, and unfortunately I don’t see my meds person again until the end of the month. In the meantime, I’m self-medicating with lots of caffeine, which seems less than ideal.
I’ve been thinking a lot about ethical systems, mostly how much I don’t seem to understand. Utilitarianism just seems weird to me, which makes me think I’m missing something given how much it forms the basis for modern western ethics in general. But I don’t see how anyone gets past the Repugnant Conclusion.¹ Eventually we all run into an arbitrary first principle for our ethical beliefs, and I’ve seen some very clunky attempts to turn this into an almost mathematical process. Just as faith is, ultimately, absurd, so too is our idea for what’s right and wrong. Trying to ignore this just seems pointless.
This is why I have a hard time with things like Effective Altruism. I get the idea - people want to maximize the benefit of their charitable dollars. But how do you calculate “benefit”? You can’t quantize happiness in any meaningful way, and the ultimate goal is to increase happiness, isn’t it? At least in the longer term.
The answer, of course, isn’t to do nothing, but we shouldn’t pretend to know more than we do just to feel better. At best we can hope that sites like Effective Altruism show their work enough that we can make our own judgments. But morality will always remain deeply personal.
This makes law somewhat problematic. If ethics really is so personal, is it itself ethical to say that law should be where enough individual ethical systems overlap? I haven’t had nearly enough to drink to go down that particular path. Democracy’s supposed to address this, but it doesn’t address the underlying question, merely assumes an affirmative answer.
IMO, the problem isn't with utilitarianism as a principle, but with the fact that academic philosophers are insufferable nerds who will take absolutely anything too literally in order to poke holes in it.
The Repugnant Conclusion isn't a real problem, because it's not something anyone would actually try to implement; it's just a bugaboo for people who demand consistency *at any cost*.
Effective altruism is garbage for reasons completely unrelated reasons. It's an ideological backstop for capitalism: it says that if you have a choice between working to make the world a better place and making more money to give to charity, you should always choose to make more money, because charity professionals will be more effective than you. This approach takes the capitalist/NGO model as unchangeable, and ignores the fact that, as long as capitalism continues to exist, a better world isn't possible.
My issue with utilitarianism is that it tries to be calculated, but it's in an area where we lack anything close to sufficient information or even any objective way to find standards. For the Repugnant Conclusion, it's more to show how arbitrary utilitarianism ultimately ends up. Still, I wish I had more of a background in this stuff, just so I had some bases for comparison.