Category: Good and Evil

Empathy versus compassion: Fully understanding morality

| December 13, 2016 | 1 Reply

This lively podcast, featuring Sam Harris and Paul Bloom, challenges many traditional notions of morality, focusing on the distinction between empathy and compassion. If you give it 10 minutes it will be difficult to turn it off.

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Pseudoinefficacy: We are willing to help one person, but less willing when there are multitudes we cannot help

| December 13, 2016 | 2 Replies

Compelling 2015 research by Paul Slovic and others shows that we are often likely to help a person in need, but we are much less likely to help that person when our attention is simultaneously directed toward other people that we are unable to help. The fact that there are multitudes in need dampens our willingness to help a person we are most assuredly in a position to help.

Here is the summary of the research:

In a great many situations where we are asked to aid persons whose lives are endangered, we are not able to help everyone. What are the emotional and motivational consequences of “not helping all”? In a series of experiments, we demonstrate that negative affect arising from children that could not be helped decreases the warm glow of positive feeling associated with aiding the children who can be helped. This demotivation from the children outside of our reach may be a form of “pseudoinefficacy” that is non-rational. We should not be deterred from helping whomever we can because there are others we are not able to help.

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Milgram experiment reenacted by the BBC in 2009

| September 26, 2015 | Reply

Consider whether we are capable of learning basic moral lessons. This in a reenactment of the Millgram experiment by the BBC. This video drives home the terrible things that human beings are capable of doing, even when not coerced, where they are merely requested to do these terrible things by an apparent authority figure. Massively unsettling.

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Eulogy by the Deceased

| November 18, 2014 | Reply

Eulogies are best when given by the (not-quite-yet) deceased.

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The tortured history of the Senate’s report on U.S. torture

| August 5, 2014 | Reply

Propublica has published this astonishing history of the Senate’s attempt to not get to the truth.

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Stroll down the highway . . .

| June 5, 2014 | 5 Replies

Almost a nightmare tonight. I flew into St. Louis at 11:30 pm, and I was tired. I found my car at the airport and was driving about 60 mpg in the center lane of Hwy 70 toward downtown. Coming around a curve in the highway I though I saw something, and a split second later I DID see that it a man slowly walking across my lane. He was wearing a dark red top and black pants. I gave the wheel a slight nudge to the left, but not a hard tug for fear of rolling the car over. I ended up on the left side of my center lane, and missed hitting the man by less than a foot. There was no time to hit the brakes. He was not looking toward me when I almost hit him. I don’t know whether he was drunk or mentally ill. I found myself shaken up, and thanking my stars for both him and me. A couple minutes later, I thought of calling the police, but the man would have made it across the highway, or not, by then. You just don’t expect to see a person walking on a dark superhighway at night, so when I first thought I saw him, I couldn’t immediately process that it could be a person. looking back, I now see that I made an almost unconscious decision that I would not flip my car (probably a suicidal maneuver) in order to save this man. It’s a disturbing thought, made only a bit less disturbing by the fact that the entire episode lasted 2 seconds, making it impossible for me to think things through in real time.

And now, back home, I once again remind myself that an avoided tragedy is a great gift. What happened is the equivalent of me striking and killing a man on the highway, and then a magic genie coming along and using magic to undo the damage. I came so close to striking the man that it almost seems like I DID strike him . . .

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Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

| February 7, 2014 | 1 Reply
Ken Ham’s Lack of Wonder

By now, I’m sure, many people know about the debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham.  Only 9% of respondents apparently saw Ham as the winner.  Of course that won’t be the end of it. 

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No national war on needless hospital deaths in the U.S.

| September 20, 2013 | Reply

So why isn’t there any national war on hospital negligence? Isn’t a death a death? More than 200,000 needless hospital deaths every year.  Propublica Reports. 

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Time to ban predatory lenders and rent-to-own shops

| July 9, 2013 | Reply

David Ray Papke has recently published “Perpetuating Poverty: Exploitative Businesses, the Urban Poor, and the Failure of Liberal Reform,” suggesting that it’s time to pull the plug entirely on predatory lenders and rent-to-own outlets. If only legislators would base their decisions on what is just rather than the flow of money to their re-election campaigns. Why ban them rather than regulate them? Because it’s been attempted for a long time, unsuccessfully. These business are great at evading the spirit of regulation.

In the end, the urban poor who shop and borrow at rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns do in fact pay exorbitant amounts that are much higher than what they would pay for goods at Walmart or loans at the local bank. As scholars have argued for almost fifty years, it is routinely the case that the poor pay more than middle and upper-class Americans for comparable goods and services.1 This includes food, housing, transportation, insurance, mortgages, and health care,2 and it certainly includes goods and loans from rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns.

This article has four major sections. The first three examine the business models of, in order, the rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns. Each of these business models features a highly-crafted, standardized contractual agreement that does not merely support the business but rather is central to it. The fourth section of the article reviews reformist efforts related to these businesses and also argues that these liberal efforts at reform have been ineffective. The business models and concomitant contractual agreements of rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns are so sophisticated and adjustable as to make them virtually impervious to regulation. As a result, rent-to-own outlets, payday lenders, and title pawns continue not only to exploit the urban poor but also to socio-economically subjugate the urban poor by trapping them into a ceaseless debt cycle. A blanket proscription of these tawdry businesses might be the only way to drive them from our midst and to eliminate their active role in the perpetuation of urban poverty.

. . .

Some practices so fundamentally affront our shared values that they should quite simply be prohibited. It is one thing to exploit the urban poor, but it is another thing to systematically worsen their socio-economic condition and to thereby subject them to greater control and subservience. Exploitation, in other words, might be tolerable in our market economy, but subjugation should not be. You can take people’s money and the value of their labor, but you not should be able to yoke them permanently or even semi-permanently to subordination. By actively making the urban poor even poorer, the rent-to-own, payday lending, and title pawn businesses do just that and should be banned.

Papke’s article can be found here. It is published by Marquette University Law School.

For more on payday loans, see various articles at this site with the word “payday,” including this look at how the battle between reformers and the industry wages on the ground.

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