The proper place of bullshit, or re: “Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts”

(A reaction to this piece published in the New York Times.)


I’m tempted to say something like “You can’t be both religious and a good moral philosopher.” I’m not so sure that’s true, but it sure as hell seems to get in the way. When one begins with a set conclusion–i.e., “My religious beliefs”–and then uses philosophy as a way to justify those “truths” rather than allowing philosophy to lead the way wherever it will… well, you’re going to wind up going to strange places. For example, you’re going to wind up arguing for universal moral objectivity because that’s what your holy book requires, like Justin McBrayer does in the above piece, despite the whole idea of objective morality being obvious bullshit.

When I call human value judgments “bullshit” I mean it in the fondest way. There’s a lot of great bullshit in the world that makes life worth living. All human culture, art, philosophy, morality, ethics; our concepts of rights, freedom, fairness and civility; the importance we place on truth, scientific honesty, authenticity–it’s all bullshit. We are not now, nor will we ever be, sure we’re right about anything, and even if we were, there’s no objective reason to believe there’s value in not being wrong. Any value we place on anything–even our lives, even the “value” of something having value to us–exists in our heads, it’s subjective, it’s bullshit. But so long as one is comfortable living as an inescapably subjective human being there’s nothing wrong with that. Bullshit makes the flowers grow, and that’s beautiful.

If children are being taught that all values are subjective, that even the base concepts underlying our civilization are ultimately just some bullshit someone made up and others decided to take seriously for reasons… well, good, because that is indeed the case. There is no right or wrong, no good or evil; these are subjective ideas passed down through the generations, in a word: bullshit. Some of that bullshit is extremely useful, in my completely subjective opinion. I’m quite fond of the idea of human rights, for example, and that’s the kind of bullshit I’m happy to continue laying down for future generations. But there’s no point pretending it’s not bullshit. The concept of human rights isn’t going to survive because we tell kids it was handed down by some weirdo in the clouds or because it has some imaginary presence in the physical Universe. (Tell me, what’s the force-carrier for the First Amendment? Does the right to bear arms manifest as a wave or a particle?) I’d like to think the best of our bullshit will survive because it’s useful, because it makes people’s lives better.

At the end of the day does the Universe as a whole lose sleep over rape, murder, torture and so on? Nah. The Universe is a big place and shit happens; none of it really matters on a cosmic scale. Do I, as a human, prefer those sorts of things don’t happen? Of course. But I’m not going to pretend that’s anything but a subjective preference on my own part. I love the hell out of my species, but spoiler alert folks, we’re pretty insignificant. As the 21st century progresses we seem to be getting to a choke point where more and more people will have to be comfortable with the fact (oh hey, that word) that there is no is, that we’re are all caught up in our subjective perceptions and consequent reality maps, and hopefully we’ll all be able to have senses of humor about how impossible it is to make objective statements about reality and give each other some leeway. Or I guess another option is to shut your eyes and insist that the likes of Aristotle and Confucius were on to something and there really is something objective to all our bullshit… because after wading in bullshit long enough it’s all you can smell.

But if you’re going to take the latter route, please first show me where “Morality” is on the periodic table. In the meantime, let’s teach children to think for themselves, to recognize bullshit when they see it, and to understand that the bullshit of the past can be replaced with more useful, more informed modern bullshit whenever it’s convenient.


Quick review – The Last of Us Remastered (and my issue with gun combat in modern games)

Wouldn’t you know it, Honest Trailers just did The Last of Us the same night I beat it. Synchronicity is nifty, isn’t it?

So yeah, I just finished The Last of Us Remastered last ni… well, technically this morning. I can see why people were all gaga over the PS3 version last year. The Last of Us is easily some of the best writing and cinematography I’ve seen in a game, the world has that same feeling of post-apocalyptic authenticity I get from Stephen King’s The Stand, and it had a good mix of linearity and exploration for a survival-horror game. I can also say this is a game where I don’t think they need a sequel as the first one is, like a great novel, a complete experience in itself… but if The Last of Us 2 happens, I wouldn’t mind seeing an adult Ellie dealing with the consequences of finding out the truth (if you’ve played it, you know what I mean). The Last of Us earns a solid A, will play again… especially since it looks to have a new game plus feature. (Good old Chrono Trigger, the gift that keeps giving. I wish more games would steal from it.) Continue reading

Let’s Talk Turtles #2: Abusers and Mutants and Aliens, Oh My


In IDW’s first year of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the family came together despite opposition from Baxter Stockman, the cocky scientist whose experiments led to their mutation; Old Hob, the mutant alley cat Stockman tasked with tracking them down; and the Foot Clan, whose leader the Shredder murdered Splinter and his children’s previous incarnations back in feudal Japan. The second year begins with the family back together and living above April’s Second Time Around Shop, musing over their recent battles and wondering what’s coming next. For this post let’s take a look at their adventures in NYC during year one’s fallout, as the family’s status quo shifts a bit and new threats arise. Continue reading

Quick Review – Star Wars: A New Dawn


Cover image shamelessly lifted from Amazon. (Btw, Kanan never actually uses that lightsaber in the book, though we do get to hear plenty of how sexy he thinks Hera is.)

As I write this I’m trying to think how long it’s been since I read a Star Wars novel. I was never much of one for the Expanded Universe. The entirety of my exposure to the EU is Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (the first Star Wars novel, published before The Empire Strikes Back was released, and thus worth a read if just for its unique take on where the story was going before a sequel to A New Hope became a sure thing) and the fan favorite post-Return of the Jedi Thrawn trilogy, which I’m told is about as good as the EU ever got (and which I’d probably give a solid B as sci-fi literature). Oh, and I read the official novelizations of the prequels when they came out for some reason, probably because as a lifelong Star Wars OT fan I was grasping at whatever rare straws of gold I could find in the trail of dung that was the prequel trilogy. And I played a few of the games, especially Knights of the Old Republic (a.k.a. the best thing to happen to Star Wars since the original movies) and for a while I DMed a group playing Star Wars d20, so I suppose all that counts. But beyond that Star Wars has mostly just been the movies to me. My nerdy friends have told me about moons falling on Chewbacca, the lovechild of Captain Planet and the Borg invading the New Republic, and a Solo kid racking up dark side points, but when the EU turned into a Force ghost it didn’t mean much to me as a fan. Continue reading