Archive for December, 2009
Let me clarify right fast that I am not one of those raging hippie animal rights activists. I don’t attack people for wearing fur and I believe that meat is the best thing ever. So understand that what follows isn’t from the liberal “animals are people too” camp that makes as little sense as packing up a bunch of starry-eyed christian youths to go caroling in Mecca. “Mommy, why don’t they have the Christmas Spirit?”
That being said, we adopted a kitten recently. It’s an absolutely adorable mass of energetic tabby fluff that adores people. She’s situated herself mostly already, except a hierarchy battle between her and the previous “small” cat. But the point of this story is back at the shelter.
We walked into the local humane society, a place I hadn’t been before, and found they had two rooms filled with cats. Cats of all shape, all variety, and almost uniformly adult. Out of the maybe thirty cats this small shelter had between these two rooms, three of them were kittens. It makes sense, I suppose; hell, we went there because my wife wanted a kitten specifically. I can’t say we were really fixing much of the problem, but we already have two cats, this making a third. When we told the volunteers working there we found a cat we wanted, they told us that due to overpopulation in the shelter, adoption fees had been cut from $50 to $20 and that they were offering a two-for-one special on cats. They tried to convince us to take a second cat home, but four would be entirely too many.
I reflected back on this to a place I once lived; some kittens were rescued from a mountain ranch where there mother had vanished, presumably having become coyote food. The kittens were care for by my roommates who kept one. Some of them were adopted by a friend who I later dated, and who later moved in with us. When she and I separated, she was moving somewhere she couldn’t have cats and the original roommate and I were.
At this point, there were five total cats in the house; four very young females and one adult male. Of course, no where in any of this did anyone get the animals fixed. What eventually ensued was the four female cats having litters all at once. The final count I had was twenty cats in this house at some point in time. There was no way to afford getting them all fixed, even with local programs that would reduce the cost to $20 or $25 per cat. There was a reluctance, though, to taking them to the Humane Society, as there was a fear the kittens would be put down.
I can happily tell you that this would have been unlikely; kittens are adopted quickly. Further, the Humane Society gets the animals fixed as well as gets their initial vaccinations. If the original group of kittens had been taken to the humane society in the first place, they would have found homes after having been fixed and given the shots that we could never afford to give them. Instead, the cat population was greatly influence by our household. Given the population of cats that desparately needed somewhere to live anyway, it was affected negatively, needlessly.
The moral of this story; if you have a friend who’s pet produces a litter of other pets, unless you’re able to afford the costs of getting the animal fixed, think twice about taking in your friends pet. There’s people out there who are willing to pay what you cannot, and if you really do want a pet, many more who desperately need homes.
Uganda is considering legislation presently that would increase enforcement of what its government believes is one of the greatest of crimes; homosexuality. It has been illegal to commit homosexual acts in Uganda for the past century, this bill would just step up the penalties. Seven years in jail for consensual homosexual acts. Life imprisonment for being in a same-sex marriage. Death for engaging in homosexual acts with a minor.
Don’t get me wrong, like the rest of society I share a particular hatred of pedophiles and have no problem with the harsh treatment, but I’d rather it was because they were destroying the life of a child and not because they were gay.
The bill is popularly supported, as far as anyone can tell. There’s a tendency to be quiet about opposition to it as it marks you for retribution. Apparently, it’s a huge cultural issue in the country. So, the vocal part of the country stands in favor of the bill. This would cause Uganda to withdraw from a few international treaties on human rights, but to them, it’s a fair exchange.
If this bill does pass, it will have been passed by the democratically elected representatives of a democratic government, reflecting the will of a democratic population. As atrocious as it sounds to my western sensibilities (by the way, according to the lawmakers in support of this bill, homosexuality is a sign of the west’s influence in Ugandan culture. Apparently, we brought homosexuality along with our coca-cola) shouldn’t a democratic nation be allowed to govern itself by the will of its people? That’s what democracy is all about, right?
At what point are you stepping over the edge? When is it appropriate for the international community to interfere with the activities of a democratic people?
An associate of mine posed an open question recently, inquiring on the nature of free will relative to the probabilistic nature of the behaviour of atoms and particles; specifically, questioning if such could actually exist, given that the makeup of our own mental faculties — the neural pathways by which we reason and consider things — are made up of these objects which behave in accordance to probability and scientifically predictable potentials. While I’m certainly not qualified to evaluate the validity of the question from a scientific perspective (aside from, perhaps, a quick reference to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle), I’m more than willing to address the question from the more philosophical side. Which, of course, means without any qualification or regard to conventional wisdom.
The question of ‘free will’ is, of course, a rather hotly debated one. From the religious “God-given free will” to the deterministic view of early scientific endeavours, it’s been on the minds of great thinkers and the average man throughout the course of history. The most debated point, I think, exists on the crux of a difference between perceived free will and actual free will; that is, that perhaps the universe is, as some science claims, entirely deterministic, that our ability to decide, rationalize, and draw our own conclusions is a grand self-deception by which we believe ourselves to be making these decisions through a complex neural system which tricks us into thinking that we’re actually thinking — a rather dubious problem to attempt to tackle, as it’s one which cannot, by its own definition, be examined without prejudice in the normal fashion. After all, if we’re tricked into believing that we are considering things, then how can we consider whether we’re being tricked? Thus, until empirical evidence can be supplied by which this can be analyzed, this camp defends itself by what essentially becomes a logical fallacy.
More interesting, though, than the scientific examination of this quandary is the religious take on the same problem; my own religious background, as I’ve discussed, being Christian, I examine this from that perspective. Christians are taught two important things relating to this enigmatic situation; the religion hinges on the idea that God-given free will was the fulcrum point for Original Sin — when Man defied the will of God by choosing to partake of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Seemingly contradictory, though, is the prevalent and highly repeated mantra that God has planned all things; that every event, instance, and occurrence in our lives is God’s will manifest. Without delving into the “Did God plan Original Sin?” debate, this dualistic approach to the basic question seems to be self-negating and, frankly, rather flat.
There have been some interesting experiments in the field of neuroscience attempting to gauge the existence of this “conscious free will” and the way that we perceive it. Subjects asked to flick their wrist at a random (self-determined) interval and to record the time at which they felt they had made the decision to do so were found to have unconscious activity towards the action before they felt they had reached a conscious decision — that is, that the unconscious mind had already determined what it was going to do, and relayed that to the subject as a “conscious” decision on their part shortly after; even the conductor of this study (Benjamin Libet), however, acknowledged that despite the seeming evidence against free will, the conscious mind was still capable of ceasing the action taken milliseconds before it occurred; that is, that even though it appeared that the subconscious mind was relaying a “false free will”, the conscious mind retained the final say-so in whether the subconscious’ decision was carried out.
Personally, I hold to a belief that free will must exist, if the world is to be anything near interesting to live in. Probabilistic particles or not, the ability of humans to rationalize, identify a well-reasoned course of action, and then to deviate from that course is the most interesting thing that I have experienced. As much as science may seem to indicate that the idea of free will is merely one of perception, I say that the perception of a thing such as free will is equal to the existence of such. Much of logic and reason, after all, is founded on the principles of Aristotelian Realism, the core concept of which states that that which we perceive to be real is, in fact, real.
So, wouldn’t having the perception of free will, by that definition, be the same as having “actual” free will?