New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 13 May 2014 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
May 132014

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer questions chosen in advance from the Question Queue. Here are the most recent additions to that queue. Please vote for the ones that you’re most interested in hearing me answer! You can also review and vote on all pending questions sorted by date or sorted by popularity.

Also, I’m perfectly willing to be bribed to answer a question of particular interest to you pronto. So if you’re a regular contributor to Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar, I can answer your desired question as soon as possible. The question must already be in the queue, so if you’ve not done so already, please submit it. Then just e-mail me at to make your request.

Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:

Is it wrong for an atheist to believe in some kind of afterlife?

I don’t believe in God, but I hate to think that this life is all that I have. I can’t stand the thought of never again seeing my parents, my children, or my friends again. So is it wrong to think that some kind of afterlife might exist? What’s the harm?

What’s wrong with agnosticism?

In your radio show of May 11th, 2014, you indicated that agnosticism – the view that a person can’t know whether God exists or not – is wrong. But what’s wrong with honestly admitting that you don’t know? Can the question of God’s existence really be answered without some kind of faith? Moreover, isn’t the agnostic – practically speaking – basically the same as an atheist?

How can a disabled person overcome a toxic childhood?

I am a fifty-one-year-old woman with several neurological disabilities, and I would have liked to have been reared as a human being. Instead, I was frequently informed (usually by my mother) that I was a “retarded, subhuman spectacle” – a “vegetable,” a “handicapped monstrosity,” a “travesty of a human being.” It was daily made plain to me that I was being reared purely out of my parents’ sense of duty, so as not to burden other people with my existence. It was likewise continually made clear to me that, whenever anyone played with me or tried to become acquainted with me, they did this purely out of an imposed sense of a duty to do so: for instance, because they were following a parent’s or teacher’s commands in order to avoid being punished for avoiding me. My disabilities (dyspraxia, dysgraphia, and severe Asperger’s among some others) are not physically visible. However, their effects on my behavior led to my being perceived as retarded despite a tested IQ above 150. (This tested overall IQ, in turn, was although scores on three of the subtests were in the 80-90 range.) By that standard, at least – the objective standard of lacking some reasoning power – I am a handicapped human being. As you know, Ayn Rand points out that no child ought to be exposed to “the tragic spectacle of a handicapped human being.” How should this principle have been carried out with regard to me, as a child? Further, the consequences for me of growing up in this way include an immense fear of other people, and a feeling (which I have been unable to change or vanquish) that I am indeed subhuman and should be rejected by anyone I admire, anyone worth dealing with. This feeling persists despite what I rationally consider to be productive adult achievement in the personal and professional realms. So how best can I undo the damage that has been done to my sense of life by my situation itself (being a handicapped human being, and recognizing this) and by how I was reared (which was at least partly a consequence of what I was and am)?

What advice would you give to a new Objectivist?

In late May, you’ll be leading a discussion at ATLOSCon on “What I Wish I’d Known as a New Objectivist.” Personally, I wish I could tell younger self that the term “selfish” doesn’t mean the “screw everyone else, I’m getting mine” behavior that most people think it means. Other people will use the term that way, and trying to correct them is an uphill battle not worth fighting. I’d tell my younger self to just use a long-winded circumlocution to get the point across. What other kinds of obstacles do people new to Objectivism commonly encounter? What advice would you give to new new Objectivists to help them recognize and overcome them?

How can I convince myself that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side?

I always think that the grass must be greener on the other side of the fence. Whatever subject I study, I think about all the other subjects I’m not studying. Whatever work I’m doing, I think about all the other work I’m not getting done. Whatever book I’m reading, I think about all the other books I could be reading. I want to do everything, and I want to do all of it right now. How can I convince myself to be happy with what I’m actually doing and able to do? How can I stop this perpetual cycle of boredom and longing for change?

What should be the limits of government spying on citizens, residents, and foreigners?

I have been getting into arguments with my friends about the ethics of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing and the ethics of NSA spying on foreigners. My friends say Snowden’s disclosure is evil because it undermined legitimate spying the NSA does for national security. Cited in particular was Snowden’s disclosure that the NSA was spying on the work of a Chinese information-technology firm. I replied that if the NSA had probable cause to suspect that the Chinese IT firm was contributing to a military threat against the USA, I would support the spying, but that the Chinese firm being in IT is not sufficient to justify spying on it. I added that it was highly inappropriate for the NSA to spy on Angela Merkel’s phone calls and that the NSA inappropriately spied on attendees of the Copenhagen climate conference to give President Obama the upper hand when negotiating the climate treaty. I then posed to my friends this question: “How far does the NSA have to go in what it does, before you say it has stepped over the line?” But it occurred to me that I don’t have a set-in-stone answer to my own question. I don’t know how far the NSA should go, other than that I generally think that the NSA should only invade the privacy of specific people and only if it has probable cause to believe they pose a military threat to the USA. So how far should the NSA go? What is and isn’t fair game when it comes to NSA spying – not merely in the case of American citizens and residents but also in the case of foreigners?

Should a business be penalized for past atrocities?

Is it wrong to do business with a company that used to do business for the Nazis? Allianz, the largest insurance company in the world, was started in Berlin in 1890. During the Third Reich, it insured companies belonging to the Nazi government and/or the Nazi Party. By paying claims on those contracts, it helped fund the regime. Moreover, Allianz paid life insurance policies on Jews murdered by the Nazis to the Nazis. Overall, the company was very cozy with the Nazis during the Third Reich. Today, the company is not anti-Semitic, and they talk about those past wrongs openly. Is that sufficient reason to do business with them now? Where should the line be drawn?

Should revenge porn be illegal?

Apparently, it is increasingly common after a break-up for a person to share sexual pictures or videos of his/her former lover that were taken while in the relationship. Some people think that sharing sexual images intended to be kept private should be illegal, while others argue that such “revenge porn” is protected speech. Which view is right? Should the consent of all parties be required for the posting of sexual imagery?

Was Atlas Shrugged intended to save America?

Recently, I ran across this comment on the internet: “”Saving America wasn’t the point of Atlas Shrugged, that’s not the happily ever after it proposes in the end. It chronicles the main characters getting over that misguided mission and why.” Two questions come to mind: (1) What was Ayn Rand’s purpose in writing Atlas Shrugged? And (2) Do you think that being inspired to “save America” after reading “Atlas Shrugged” is misguided?

Is more information always better in making medical decisions?

In debates about health care reform, some doctors and policy wonks have argued that certain screening tests are overused. They say, for example, that women shouldn’t get routine mammograms before age 50 and that men shouldn’t get routine PSA tests. The problem with these tests, they claim, is that ambiguous or worrisome results encourage patients to pursue serious treatments (such as biopsy or surgery) which offer little in the way of genuine health benefits but sometimes result in serious side effects. Personally, I’d always rather have more information than not, and I’m not going to rush into a serious or unnecessary medical procedure just because of some worrisome test results. Isn’t that the right attitude to have? Or is there a limit to how much information a person should seek out for medical decisions?

Does the morality of homosexuality depend on it being unchosen?

It seems that the advocates of gay rights and acceptance are obsessed with proving that homosexuality is never a choice. I find this confusing as it doesn’t seem to be the best argument. Even if sexual orientation were chosen, I don’t see why there would be anything better or worse about preferences for heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. Rather, I think that if I were able to pick, I would choose to be bisexual, as being straight limits my expression of admiration towards men who may represent the “highest values one can find in a human being” simply due to their genitals. Is that right? Or does the case for rights for and acceptance of gays depend in some way on sexual orientation being unchosen?

Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously?

If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called “good-luck cats.” A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor’s offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn’t literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be “social proof” that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hot lines?

Can a person derive any self-esteem or happiness from university study?

Study is not a productive activity: it is preparation for future productivity. In light of this, how can I draw any self-esteem from my studies, whether successful or not? Can I consider my learning as “productive” achievement even though I am not making any money from it or creating anything? Do I have to wait until later to start being happy or feeling self-esteem? Should I be working on the side while taking classes?

Is displaying the Confederate flag racist?

I’ve been told by southerners that displaying the flag of the Confederate States amounts to a display of “southern pride.” I think it amounts to a display of racism, given the history of the south. That flag was used in a time when the agricultural economy of the southern states relied on slave labor. Many southern states seceded from the Union, largely because of their nefarious interests in preserving slavery. The Confederate flag represents these states and their ideology. Hence, I think it’s morally questionable (at least) to display it. I don’t think the south should take pride in or honor the Confederacy. Am I right or wrong in my thinking? What should I think of people who choose to display the Confederate flag?

To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)

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