This Explains A Lot, I Guess…

Here’s another planned post from those lost notes on a Sunday Times I just found from two weeks ago:

In  the New York Times Magazine,  the Times announced the results of an online poll of 2, 903 subscribers by its research-and-analytics  department. 72% Times loyalists would prefer to have done something horrible that only they knew about than to have everyone think they did a horrible thing that they really didn’t do.

Wait…what?

See, if you did a secret horrible thing, there really was someone hurt by your conduct. If people just think you did a horrible thing, you in fact hurt nobody, and did nothing wrong. This was a sneaky way of asking, “Are you a selfish and unethical human being, or not?”  Well, sneaky assuming that Times subscribers are incapable of thought, or that they let their 12-year-old kids answer Times research questions. About 3/4 answered, “Oh, I’m completely unethical!”

For the sake of clarity, let’s assume that both sides of the question involve the same horrible act, agreed? After all, if the real act is setting an orphanage on fire, and the wrongly believed act is farting loudly during a funeral service, or vice versa, the question is ridiculously easy.

So…72% of Times subscribers would rather have murdered a child than have everyone wrongly think they murdered a child? Molested a child? Broiled and eaten a child? Committed adultery? Spousal abuse? Spousal torture? Buried a spouse alive? Keeping a spouse locked in a dungeon? Locking a spouse in a dungeon with rabid wolverines?

What does this poll result tell the Times? What were they trying to learns? What does it tell us?

I guess it might explain the continued presence of the likes of Charles Blow, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman on the Times op-ed pages.

Or maybe their presence explains why Times subscribers reason as they do.

25 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

25 responses to “This Explains A Lot, I Guess…

  1. ”explains why Times subscribers reason as they do.”

    NYT readers (most, not all) have their reasons, which reason knows nothing of.

  2. Wayne

    Yikes! I guess the percentage of sociopath that read the NYT is higher than I thought. Probably many of them are Atheists as “If there is no God, then everything is permitted,” Maybe Satan subscribes and chuckles.

    • I could argue that many of them are theists because they’re confident that their deity will forgive them.

      Atheism doesn’t imply nihilistic amorality. Religion has been used to describe reality, ascribe meaning, and prescribe behavior. Those roles are being taken over by science, philosophy, and ethics, respectively. In my own experience, at least, atheists usually have a strong sense of right and wrong, though it may be different from yours. I don’t know whether you’re right about the people who responded, but you are generalizing about other people’s beliefs in an ignorant way.

      Also, I’m rather perplexed by the concept of Satan. Humans have clearly established flaws that lead to worldwide problems. Explaining them away with a supernatural villain only prevents people from working to understand them and how to fix them. To borrow a lesson from Eliezer Yudkowsky, the choice between good and evil isn’t merely having the will to make the obvious choice. It’s also having the wisdom to figure out which is which.

      • Isaac

        “I could argue that many of them are theists because they’re confident that their deity will forgive them.”

        I have heard atheists commonly make this claim, but the evidence is all to the contrary. Religious participation is negatively correlated with criminal activity, and this result is repeated in countless studies, with every possible control in place, to the point that it’s just about as close to a stone cold fact as you can get in sociology. In fact the biggest single factor among urban youth preventing crime is church attendance (outranking “having a father at home” for the #1 spot.)

        At this point, an atheist still making the claim that “theists are more likely to commit horrible acts because they are confident that God will forgive them” is making a provably false claim, although I don’t believe that you are doing so intentionally or in bad faith.

        • Isaac

          Wayne is also very much on to something. There are plenty of acts so awful that they defy belief in the news in the form of mass killings. You don’t much hear about the killers having just come out of Bible study convinced that Jesus will forgive them if they shoot up a school. However, comb through the manifestos and web screeds of mass killers, and there are some oft-repeated themes. The following quotes retain their original spelling and grammar:

          –Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers, from his journal: “Only science and math are true, everything, and I mean everyfuckingthing else is man made…theres no such thing as True Good or True Evil, its all relative to the observer. its just all nature, chemistry, and math. deal with it…NATURAL SELECTION. KILL all retards, people w/ brain fuck ups, drug adics…people spend millions of dollars on saving the lives of retards, and why.” [Harris wore a t-shirt with “Natural Selection” printed on it while murdering classmates at Columbine.]

          –Eliot Rodger, Isla Vista Massacre misogynist killer, from his “manifesto”: “I am the closest thing there is to a living god” “The fact that women still prioritize brute strength just shows that their minds haven’t fully evolved.”

          –Jim Jones, People’s Temple communist leader responsible for over 900 deaths, from his speeches: “There’s only one hope of glory; that’s within you! Nobody’s going to come out of the sky! There’s no heaven up there! We’ll have to make heaven down here!” [While tearing up a Bible on stage]: “This black book has held down your people for 2000 years. It has no power!” “I don’t believe in any loving god. Our people, I would say, are 90 percent atheist.” “One hundred million persons will starve to death this year. And you believe in a God? You must be an idiot. You believe in any god other than what you can see in the spirit of socialism, that I happen to be at this moment in time and space incarnated, you must be an idiot.”

          –Adam Lanza, mass-murderer of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, from his message board posts: “From observing other people who have died, the only conclusion which can be reached
          is that nothing happens. Treating death as if it’s the end of everything would be the most prudent course of action because believing that something happens is contrary to the observable world of the life which you are certain about having, thus deluding you into behaving in a way which could negatively impact your life.” “I don’t see how [a pill made from dead babies is] more disgusting than a pill derived from any other animal. If anything, it seems slightly less disgusting.” “Marriage is a mutually destructive cultural delusion.” “I don’t think there should be any age of consent.” “Civilization has not been present for 99% of the existence of hominids, and the only way that it’s ever sustained is by indoctrinating each new child for years on end.”

          –Matthew Murray, Colorado Springs church mass shooter, internet atheist convert, on the internet: “All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you…as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.”

          –James Holmes, Colorado Movie Theater Mass-Killer, from his notebook planning and justifying the murders: “FAITH: What kind of GOD commands his people not to murder yet cowers behind free will? REASON: The reason why life should exist is as arbitrary as the reason why it shouldn’t. Life shouldn’t exist…The weak are most likely to perish in trying times, likewise the strong most likely to overcome. Why do the AVG & str support the weak?…Homo Sapiens: Mythical Biblical: Garden of Eden…consume fruit of knowledge…cast out of utopia…Evolution, the biological program’s codes is very difficult to fight…

          –Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, from his journal: “I believe in nothing. I don’t even believe in the cult of nature-worshippers or wilderness-worshippers…”

          –Jeffrey Dahmer, from a television interview two years after his sentencing for multiple murders and mutilations: “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behaviour to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…”

          –Craig Stephen Hicks, who murdered 3 of his Muslim neighbors in 2015 execution-style, from social media: “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.” “You have the right to your belief…I have the right to point out it’s ignorant and dangerous for as long as your baseless superstitions keep killing people.”

          –Pekka-Eric Auvinen, Finnish teen school shooter who killed six, from his manifesto: “Humans are just a species among other animals and world does not exist only for humans.” “Life is just a meaningless coincidence…result of long process of evolution and many several factors…I, as natural selector, will eliminate all who I see unfit…”

          Anders Breivik, mass-killer of children in Norway and Christian-identity political terrorist: “…it is essential that science takes an undisputed precedence over biblical teachings…I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic. However, I am a supporter of a monocultural Christian Europe.” “I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person as that would be a lie. I’ve always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment.” “Religion is a crutch for many weak people and many embrace religion for self serving reasons as a source for drawing mental strength.” “If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform.” “‘Logic’ and rationalist thought (a certain degree of national Darwinism) should be the fundament of our societies. I support the propagation of collective rational thought but not necessarily on a personal level.” “Being a Christian can mean many things; That you believe in and want to protect Europe’s Christian cultural heritage…It is therefore essential to understand the difference between a ‘Christian fundamentalist theocracy’ (everything we do not want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we do want).”

          And now there’s Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas, who by all accounts had no religious thoughts whatsoever and seemed to just want to gamble, enjoy prostitutes, and drag a submissive girlfriend around. And also Devin Kelly in Texas, a stereotypical internet atheist who liked “The Friendly Atheist” blog and argued with Christians on Facebook about how dumb their religion is. And then went to a church wearing all black with a skull mask, screamed “Everybody die, motherfucker!” and proceeded to shoot toddlers dead.

          There’s definitely a strain running through the emerging secular West that matches the thrust of Wayne’s comment.

          • Steve-O-in-NJ

            Good points, Isaac, but you’re just getting warmed up with at list of vile serial killers and mass murderers.

            Let’s not forget Karl Panzram, who gleefully murdered more than twenty people over his sick career, and once sneeringly said of a boy he killed “His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him, and he will never be any deader.” He also proclaimed “I don’t believe in man, God, or Devil,” before they finally hoisted him to do the strangulation jig.

            Let’s also not forget Mark Essex, who renounced Christianity because it was the white man’s religion, stewed for years in hatred for whites, and finally cut loose with a rifle in New Orleans, before they took him out with a helicopter.

            There’s also always self-proclaimed atheist Larry Flynt, a disgusting purveyor of low-end pornography who tries to set himself up as a First Amendment hero.

            Honestly, though, these folks are small potatoes. Let’s open the history books and see what we find:

            Maximilien Robespierre, who eagerly embraced Diderot’s ideal that society would be perfect “when the last king is hung by the entrails of the last priest” and his antitheist mentor Marat, who sent who knows how many innocent people to the guillotine for any reason or no reason.

            The leaders of the Portuguese revolution, who installed a republican…and murdered priests and religious with gay abandon.

            Lenin and his faithful lieutenant Feliks Dzerzhinsky, who created a society that talked of freedom and equality and practiced state terror and murder, who wanted all religion except worship of the state GONE.

            Stalin, who did the same, just on a bigger scale.

            Mao Zedong, who set himself up as the “reddest of red suns,” condemned millions to death by the bullets of the Cultural Revolution and millions more by starvation in the Great Leap Forward, and all the while lived a degenerate private life with mass group sex.

            Pol Pot, who banned towns, religion, and property, and introduced instant death for the slightest infraction.

            The top villain of all history, Adolf Hitler, never professed atheism, but he closed churches, pushed nationalistic paganism, and even introduced a Nazi version of the Lord’s prayer addressed to him.

            Seeing a pattern yet?

            But, but, the Crusades… Bullshit. The Crusades only happened AFTER the world’s most villainous religion and ideology conquered the Middle East and North Africa and tried to conquer Europe. But, but, the Inquisition… Bullshit. The Inquisition only came about because that same most villainous religion and ideology had held one of Europe’s nation’s in thrall for seven centuries and the rulers wanted it gone.

            I’ve said before that I loathe atheism, and the content of this post and Isaac’s post is a lot of the reason why. When atheists aren’t indulging their basest appetites or those of others, or making the lives of us less intelligent believers miserable with insults and lawsuits, they are putting their hate into practice by murder on either a small or a huge scale. Sure, Christianity has slipped, but if you stack its real wrongs up against atheism, you will see a clear difference.

            Islam is of course the single exception to religion generally being better than no religion. Its record of aggressive wars of conquest rivals communism and Nazism, and do I really need to list the mass murders committed in its name in the last three years alone?

            • You need to hang out with the sort of atheists I hang out with. Part of the reason I don’t go around saying Christianity makes people stupid and violent is because that would directly contradict my personal experiences with pleasant, highly intelligent Christians. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a slew of good reasons for why I think Christianity is an incredibly self-contradictory dogma kept alive mostly by doublethink, indoctrination, and the lack of imagination and philosophical prowess to conceive of a purpose to live for besides, “I was told to do this by an ultimate authority figure”. It just means that I don’t think it destroys everything it touches.

        • Morality has always been and always will be more effective than ethics in controlling behavior and restricting wrongdoing. That’s why the decay of religious belief has serious negative consequences consequences, even considering the abuses of organized religion, which are serious. Someone telling you how to live and having power and authority to take it out on you if you defy the edict, while promising supernatural rewards if you are good as the authority defines it, has the advantage of requiring not much more intellect of the faith-governed than that of a bear controlled by a catttle-prod. Ethics by definition requires analysis and quality thought (which religious teachings can certainly assist).

          What proportion of the public has sufficient analytical skills to be reliably ethical? It has to be less than 50%. I’d guess that it’s 25% at best. We might all be better off, happier, safer, if the other 75% were united in the belief and faith in an ethical deity who made the rules clear and who punished the wicked.

          • valkygrrl

            Have you read The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates?

          • Isaac

            I’m no expert, but to the best of my knowledge most well-educated and financially stable folks have an easier time following the ethical norms of society, whether they be religious or secular. But there’s a question of causation, because most well-to-do and well-educated sectors have a background of generations of religiosity (often of the European Protestant kind.)

            Atheists skew male, wealthy, and well-educated, and tend to come from religious stock (that last part will not be the case in future generations, but it’s still true at the moment) So I would suspect less criminality among most atheists currently, with the exception being the lower-income, uneducated atheists (who make up a frighteningly disproportionate percentage of spree killers and shooters.)

            Since both education/financial stability AND Christianity correlate with a better society, I personally want to see more of all three. But that’s because I believe that Christianity is true. If I didn’t, I certainly wouldn’t encourage spreading a lie for the betterment of the world, and I’d probably (hopefully!) be right where you and EC are on the issue.

            • I think I agree with the sentiment. That’s why I’m trying to make people more educated and empowered, so they can identify ethical behavior and feel confident in implementing it. However, I should point out what I think are a couple examples of confirmation bias:

              “But there’s a question of causation, because most well-to-do and well-educated sectors have a background of generations of religiosity (often of the European Protestant kind.)”

              1. Most poor people are religious, too. Most people in the United States are religious. I prefer to work with causal mechanisms rather than statistics to prove relationships, but if we’re using statistics to make statements about wealthy people, we need to at least compare them to the non-wealthy.

              2. Arguably the reason Christianity is so prevalent is because Christians wiped out or converted most of the indigenous population of the Americas. In other words, it’s not successful because people believe it; people believe it because it’s successful.

              3. I would argue that secular ideals and a movement away from religious dogma are what make Western society a much nicer place to live. An excellent example would be the U.S. Constitution, which is not based on religion. (As I understand it, it was written from a mostly deistic perspective, which was about as close to atheism as you could get before the theory of evolution.)

              Here’s another video from Darkmatter2525 to back up point 3:

              • Isaac

                There’s an entire set of gnu-atheist assumptions at play that I don’t wish to write an entire book debunking. Most founding fathers weren’t Deist (not even Franklin in his old age), and the “moving away from religious dogma” of the West wouldn’t be possible if those countries hadn’t first embraced the Reformation, transformed their societies under the influence of the Bible’s doctrines, and very quickly thereafter banned slavery, invented modern science, and imparted most of the moral and ethical ideals into our collective brains which we wrongly assume to be universal common knowledge (prior to Christianity, not only slavery but also infanticide were globally and universally accepted, and just about no one took women seriously.) Modern atheism, inasmuch as it claims the moral high ground seeing as it technically makes no moral claims, does so by standing comfortably on a foundation built by Christians who did centuries of heavy lifting against ingrained cultural and biological forces.

        • Sorry, I should clarify:

          “I could argue that many of them are theists because they’re confident that their deity will forgive them.”

          I didn’t intend that to be a good argument. That was supposed to be an equally ignorant argument that pointed in the other direction.

          “In fact the biggest single factor among urban youth preventing crime is church attendance…”

          I do argue that church attendance would be negatively correlated with crime because a) churches provide a strong support network, b) churches do instill strong habits of moral behavior (according to the church’s definition), and c) parents that take their children to church are also fairly likely to pay attention to what they’re doing. Those are all social factors that prevent crime, not theological ones. If you had all of those factors but no belief in a deity, their crime-prevention effects would still be more or less the same.

          “Religious participation is negatively correlated with criminal activity, and this result is repeated in countless studies, with every possible control in place, to the point that it’s just about as close to a stone cold fact as you can get in sociology.”

          Now you’ve got me curious. What studies are these, and did they study any areas with organized crime? Organized criminals are often very religious. Also, if you count terrorism and systematic oppression of women as a crime, suddenly the negative correlation starts to look weaker.

          I’m not saying that atheism can be counted on to make people good, or that religion can be counted on to make people do bad things. What I contend is that theistic belief is neither necessary nor sufficient for ethical behavior. There is a great deal of evidence for this assertion, and so it seems ignorant to me to argue to the contrary. I further assert that religion tends to allow people to become intellectually complacent (with some notable exceptions), because they think there’s already a prepackaged answer to all the problems in the world. Atheism is not the same thing as ethics, but I hold that it allows for a clearer understanding of ethics than religion does, because it doesn’t make fiat assertions that get in the way of an accurate philosophical understanding of the world.

          To challenge your “close to a stone cold fact”, here is a video by Darkmatter2525. The whole video is worth watching, but the hard statistics are roughly between the 5-15 minute marks.

          • Isaac

            There are dozens of composite studies, drawing from hundreds if not thousands of individual studies. A few of the composites are here:

            http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195396607/obo-9780195396607-0177.xml

            From the introduction: “However, according to reviews of existing research—whether based on a method of traditional literature review, systematic review, or meta-analysis—a majority of studies tend to confirm significant negative associations between religion and crime and drug use.” There’s plenty of good reading there, as each meta-analysis has its own link. I won’t insult your intelligence with Youtube videos 🙂

            “Also, if you count terrorism and systematic oppression of women as a crime, suddenly the negative correlation starts to look weaker.”

            I left Islam out of the conversation entirely for a reason. (I also left out weird new-age hippies, who have their own expansive wing in the serial killer hall of infamy. And agnostics. I’m trying to keep it focused.)

            “Those are all social factors that prevent crime, not theological ones. If you had all of those factors but no belief in a deity, their crime-prevention effects would still be more or less the same.”

            As they say, “that which is presented without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.” I’d like to see some evidence for that common assertion. Apparently schools and countless civic institutions, sports leagues and private clubs don’t provide these positive social factors? Have secularists never tried to emulate the benefits of church? Is the Atheist Assembly still around? Have they started admitting Black people yet?

            Consider your own mention of terrorism and oppression of women. Muslims attend religious services that include all of the social benefits of church which you named. Yet they are outlandishly overrepresented in prisons, and among terrorists. If there is no theological factor to the role of church in preventing crime, only social factors, then why is this? The social factors are present at mosques (or, as they are often known in inner cities, “community centers,” but the theology is very different.

            • I can only see the abstracts, which are not very informative. Again, I’m not doubting that there’s a correlation between religion and lower crime; I’m saying what I think the causal relationship is. I’ll believe that religion is great for stopping substance abuse as well. Not only is it good for motivating people to do fulfilling things that give them meaning and a sense of pride, but it’s also a great alternative drug. (It may be facetious to mention it, but that is how I see it, and it creeps me out to talk to people who spout cult-like slogans in a blissed-out tone, without really understanding what their happy-sounding words mean. And I’m not that easy to creep out!)

              I’d just like to know how organized crime fits into all this, since the mafia essentially does just ask for forgiveness after breaking commandments, while fully intending to continue to fail at keeping them.

              “Apparently schools and countless civic institutions, sports leagues and private clubs don’t provide these positive social factors?”

              I’m confused. Are you saying that I must not think those institutions have positive social factors because I didn’t mention it, or are you saying that you have evidence that they actually don’t provide those social factors? Because so far I’m pretty sure they do, at least up to a point. It all depends on what sort of behavior and concepts they’re promoting.

              “Have secularists never tried to emulate the benefits of church?”

              Yes, they have. There are secular churches. In addition, Unitarian Universalism is sort of an anything-goes community as far as ontological beliefs are concerned, but they certainly don’t rely on Christian dogma. I don’t remember hearing about the Atheist Assembly, so I can’t comment on it. It sounds like a cheap shot, though. I can cancel it out easily by pointing out that Christianity was used to justify slavery, so it’s probably a good bet that if a person really wants something unethical, they can twist their own belief system to feel entitled to it, without much regard for what that belief system is. It’s not a good idea to cherry-pick the worst of a group in order to prove that the group is bad.

              “Muslims attend religious services that include all of the social benefits of church which you named.”

              Again, it depends on what sort of behavior and concepts an institution promotes. I’d recommend watching the video on values I linked to before you spend a lot of time claiming how the Christian Bible is the basis for all the values that human societies only started to push for in the past few hundred years.

      • Pennagain

        Good try, EC. Stay with it!

  3. JP

    I would agree, but then I would like to hear from the Duke Lacrosse team and see what they think.

  4. Steve-O-in-NJ

    Perception is reality, after all. Let’s say three or four of us ambushed an unpopular someone we didn’t like at an isolated ski lodge in the off season and killed him. We stash the body under a slab in the wine cellar, lock it, lock the main cellar, wipe the place down, leave quietly one at a time, and agree to never speak of what we did again. It’s July, the caretaker isn’t due back until November to clean the place up for use in December, he isn’t likely to find the body, and by the time anyone does far too much time will have passed to piece together what happened. No one knows what we did, no one will ever know, and none of us really has a problem with this guy being dead, since we all hated him anyway.

    It would be a lot easier continuing on with life having done that than it would be with everyone thinking we killed a popular local person who never hurt anyone and got away with it because we shut the conspiracy too tight or hid our tracks just well enough that there wasn’t enough evidence to go to trial. It’s a lot easier to just keep going and tell yourself that you didn’t do anything wrong than it is to contend with everyone giving you the evil eye and treating you like you have the plague.

  5. Actually, I’m not surprised at all, and for a different reason than the usual ones here. They are MORE afraid of the mass witch hunts and hounding than any guilt and facing God. God is far more merciful than the current mobs. They may not consciously want to admit the mob is going too far and won’t stand up to it for the sake of the guilty or possibly guilty, but I see that majority as admitting sideways that they could not face that.

  6. Isaac

    “Courage of conviction” is the particular virtue that 77% of Times readers apparently are willing to admit that they lack. They are not strong enough to merely be in the right, if it means they must suffer the agony of unpopularity.

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