Tag Archives: ethics

the chasm between our self-conception and our actual behavior

At THR, a brief bit on moral and ethical clarity under conditions of war by Alan Jacobs:

The full implications of our involvement in a truly global economic order have long been invisible to us, because such invisibility has been in the interests of those who most profit from that order. Over the next few months and years, on multiple fronts, what was invisible will become all too visible, and we will be faced with choices that so far we have been able to avoid. Like my former student, we’ll have to confront the chasm between our self-conception and our actual behavior. How will we bridge that chasm? And how happy will we be with ourselves when our choices are made? Money clarifies; so does war.

I often disagree with Jacobs at a deep and irreconcilable level, but sometimes I find we’re in great concordance (if only on the diagnosis of an issue and not the prescription); this is one of the latter moments. Another of them would be his take (at The New Atlantis, back in 2009) on Iain M Banks, which—contrary to the more popular reading—pegs the late (and much-missed) Banksie not as the socialist utopian he’s often described as, but rather a left-liberal utopian. (And, now I come to think about it, it’s a matter of the gap between, as Jacobs puts it above w.r.t. the current circumstances, the Culture’s self-conception and its actual behaviour.)

This distinction, to be clear, does nothing to diminish my great affection for the man and all his works—indeed, Banks is among the handful of people that you can blame for inspiring the conversion of this particular reader into a writer, and as far as I’m aware was a man who lived his principles right up to the end, to the extent of disproving the old canard about atheists in foxholes. But the distinction does go rather counter to the popular-critical conversation I tend to encounter around the Culture novels in particular… though I should probably note that I have yet to acquire and read Paul Kincaid’s recent Banksie book, which may well advance a rather different and more nuanced critical position of which I am not yet aware.

a cranky aspiration

Chairman Bruce on AI ethics at LARB:

In the hermetic world of AI ethics, it’s a given that self-driven cars will kill fewer people than we humans do. Why believe that? There’s no evidence for it. It’s merely a cranky aspiration. Life is cheap on traffic-choked American roads — that social bargain is already a hundred years old. If self-driven vehicles doubled the road-fatality rate, and yet cut shipping costs by 90 percent, of course those cars would be deployed.