Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion! Again!

Posted by Anti Citizen One on March 15th, 2014

Still here, I think. I wrote a summary of Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion by David Hume on Iron Chariots, a counter-apologetics wiki.

AC1

God is Finite

Posted by Anti Citizen One on December 4th, 2011

Imagine I had a length of string that was infinitely long. What evidence or argument could I present that would convince you that it was infinitely long? Of course, I could show you vast warehouses in which some of it was stored, but we cannot inspect an infinite length in a finite time. On the other hand, if it were of finite length, it is usually easy to demonstrate that.

An easier demonstration of infinite properties might be an object traveling at infinite speed. However we might only interpret this as something being in two spatially separated locations at the same time. We still have the difficulty, given the imprecision of measurements, to be able to distinguish between a very fast particle and an infinitely fast object. If the object has finite speed, it is certainly feasible to determine its speed as finite.

Properties that may be infinite cannot be practically distinguished from similar, very large but finite possibilities. I came to this conclusion when I was asked what evidence it would take for me personally to believe in God. The traditional conception of God includes various infinite qualities. I think it is conceivable that I could be persuaded that were was a powerful, creating entity. But can we distinguish between a powerful finite God and an infinitely powerful God? By analogy, we can argue that God is not infinitely powerful, since in our experience of reality there are only finite things (finite size, finite knowledge, finite precision, finite mass, finite duration). The only other defensible position seems to be a skeptical one, in which we claim God may be finite or infinite but we could not come to a determination either way.

Anti Citizen One

(PS Of course, I don’t fully accept the last paragraph because it has the same limitations as the design argument.)

The Logic of Theism/Atheism

Posted by Anti Citizen One on November 6th, 2011

On question that I find very interesting in debating the existence/non-existence of God is the question of falsifiability of both the theist and atheist positions. Falsifiability is one of the characteristic features of natural science, but it can be useful outside that domain. It is important on a practical level, because if a proposition can never be disproved by evidence, even on principle, it becomes hard to demonstrate the proposition with evidence (and is no longer a-posteriori knowledge). For instance 2+2=4 is not falsifiable, because it is a-priori logic and evidence does not come into consideration. Another example, the Earth orbits the Sun requires observations to find out the truth value of the proposition and cannot be deduced from pure logic. Any proposition that is contingent and also unfalsifiable is usually met with extreme scepticism from critical thinkers. See also: Russell’s teapot.

Atheists usually consider God as a contingent proposition. Briefly, atheism is someone who believes the logical truth value for theism is undecided/undecidable or false (or, alternately and more correctly, someone who doesn’t hold the truth value to be true). This makes logical consideration complicated by these compounded questions: “is there a god?” and “can we determine if there is a god?”. I have been asked “what evidence would make you believe in God?”. I actually had a hard time answering this to my satisfaction. This was frustrating, because I hold that falsifiability is necessary for a-posteriori knowledge. I need to consider if my belief that theism is undecided/undecidable is falsifiable.

These issues are complicated by theism doesn’t have a unified definition of God (or Gods). For every conception of God, it would be another opportunity of atheism to be falsified. For instance, Spinoza says (to paraphrase) God is nature. Well I accept nature exists, so am I a theist? Well I guess not, since Spinoza and I have different conceptions of “nature”. But a more simple fictional example might be “my tea mug is god”. My mug exists, as far as I can tell. Therefore atheism is false? However theism typically implies God has agency. Let us consider a fictional theistic system “my pet cat is god”. Now, my cat exists and has agency. Therefore atheism is false? Because this trivial example, although logically interesting and meets the narrow definition of theism, it doesn’t relate the current debate because the concept “theism” usually implies other attributes, not just agency and existence. Atheism, to be consistent with falsifiability, only applies to theistic systems that the atheist has encountered and considered. If theistic claims are limited to fairly mundane and testable attributes for God, atheism is very falsifiable.

To be continued… Update: continued here.

The “Improvers” of Mankind

Posted by Anti Citizen One on October 17th, 2011

I have been thinking about moral crusaders and, despite their intention, their malign effect on everyone. I recently noted their confusion about alcohol and behavior. But in their superficial understanding, banning the symptoms of a problem is always the first step. For example, certain people I have talked to think that to reduce abortions, banning it would be a reasonable first step. As if it being legal was the cause of someone having an abortion. And similarly with divorce, violent movies, rap music, rock music, pornography, teenage sex… ban, ban, ban. Recently, the UK government is talking about having an opt-in Internet censorship, focusing on pornography.

I read in a Christian guide about happiness, that one should avoid alcohol because (to paraphrase) “just one drink can lead to an addiction.” Interesting. If we were to use that principle in a literal sense, we could take no action at all, since it could lead to addiction. But the literal meaning is not what is intended to be communicated to the reader. Of course, they intended to implied that the highly probable result of one drink is addiction and it will destroy your life! Best avoid it completely, rather than enjoy in moderation.

Talking to a Christian friend, they raised a few themes regarding this preference for abstinence over moderation by self control. Regarding pornography, my Christian friend disapproves because it will “change” the user in some way. They expect pornography will lead to addiction and it will change a person’s behaviour and thoughts. I can safely predict they think this change will be harmful.

On the subject of marriage, the fact that barriers to getting a divorce are reduced are a significant factor in the minds of people considering a divorce – leading to a direct causal link to an increased rate of divorce.

There are several problems with this conception of social problems and their solution. Firstly, there is only a very tenuous causal link, or no link at all, between the availability of alcohol, porn and divorce to the actual social problems they supposedly cause. Our reaction to these factors is largely culturally conditioned and they are merely a symptom, not a cause, of the underlying social problems. Without understanding the problem, it is all the more difficult in addressing it properly.

Secondly, and even more critically, experience shows us that banning these items does nothing to address the problem. For example, banning legal abortions causes people to get abortions illegally. The overall rate doesn’t decrease. Second example, banning alcohol in the US did not solve alcoholism. Sex abstinence programs do not decrease teen pregnancy rates. Censoring the Internet to protect children simply results in them circumventing the censoring system.

Thirdly, the moralists attempt at banning things they disapprove of results in worse social ills. Banning drugs and alcohol increases organised crime. Some studies claim US prohibition reversed a declining trend of the consumption of alcohol! Banning abortion harms women in unregulated abortions. Banning prostitution marginalises and endangers prostitutes. Regulating or banning porn removes the “almost mainstream” sector of pornography of it, which actually strengthens the more graphic sector of the industry. Alcohol prohibition increased drinking to excess.

When I point out a few of these problems with a moralist’s point of view, their responses was (to paraphrase):

I believe it, despite that.

So they cling to their social remedies irrespective of evidence or harm they cause. Sacred belief apparently trumps evidence. Not only do they not understand the actual cause of social problems, they don’t want to understand it. However they do seem to act in good faith; at least I can compliment them on that, even if their actions is misguided.

They mentioned their ultimate remedy:

The only real solution is when everyone believes in Jesus.

But I don’t take that at face value, since it is not only the belief in Jesus that is required but universal agreement to follow that moral code. Neither solution is achievable given actual human psychology and I fully expect they admit they are waiting for divine intervention to implement their remedy. However, this is not good policy in my view, since waiting for miracles is most unreliable.

Another interesting point is the moralists apparent need for extreme measures, rather than enjoying pleasures in moderation. Their asceticism is not based on a simple life is in itself good, but rather that the possibility of addiction to earthly pleasures must be avoided at all costs. As Christians say, people are “bad” and can’t help falling for addictions. The instincts must be crushed. “If thy eye offends thee, cut it out.” However, not everyone is slave to addictions and can control their competing desires through self control.

I want to argue that, despite moralists claiming they want to improve society, that is not their primary objective. I have already discussed how the moralists do not care if their remedy actually improves society and are willing to ignore evidence that contradicts them. If improving social conditions was their goal, they would have different remedies. They would learn better remedies and how to apply them. However, evidence links religiosity with many social ills; however, this is complicated because we cannot determine the exact causal direction and reasons why this is. It is circumstantially interesting but not conclusive. But combining these two types of evidence: “banning things to fix social problems usually backfire” and “more moralising societies have greater social ills”, I contend that these effects are two sides of the same coin.

A different Christian told me we need to ban things, in order to:

“take a moral stand as a society”

I imagine this is a more fundamental motivation than fixing social problems. This is incidentally very anti-biblical, because it contradicts its message (to paraphrase): “don’t judge people”, “let him who is without sin throw the first stone”, “turn the other cheek”, “forgive your brother 49 times”, etc. But the moralists persist in attempting to improve mankind, often with socially harmful results. Another attractive feature of the moralists world view is that social problems have a simple fix (that is, simple to understand, if not to implement), and they are usually the fault of other people – that part is critical!

I am an optimist: I think social conditions could, in principle, be improved. However, within the parameters of what constitutes an acceptable solutions as defined by moralists, actual improvement cannot be implemented. I say we should not seek to take revenge, as a society, on criminals. Moralists think otherwise. The TV series “The Wire” was most enlightening on this matter. They claim policing policy is not dedicated to protecting communities but only to fulfil political targets to protect the image of the powerful. A fictional attempt is made at quasi-legalisation of drug dealing but this is soon terminated as politically unacceptable, regardless of the fact that it improved social conditions. Art, in this case, reflects reality. Prisons are, according to influential voices, there to punish criminals. With this policy, no wonder reoffending rates are appalling.

So moralists are not allies of people who want to fix social problems. Even if they claim to want to improve society, their actions should speak louder than that. They do waste everyone’s time and block attempts to implement reforms that actually do work.

Anti Citizen One

PS I was influenced by many thinkers here, but one is probably too obvious and predictable: Nietzsche and his chapters “The Improvers of Mankind” and “Morality as Anti-Nature” are required reading in my book. Popper’s “Open Society and its Enemies” is also relevant. ‘And when they call themselves “the good and just,” forget not, that for them to be Pharisees, nothing is lacking but—power!’

PPS I started reading Spinoza’s Ethics but it is hard going. Just went I thought everything was getting profoundly interrelated and monistic, I watched “The Fountain” for the first time! I like!

Calvinism and Existentialism

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 9th, 2011

I was recently considering Calvinism, from an existential viewpoint. Superficially, they could hardly be further apart, given that they disagree as to if our lives have an objective meaning! and also, if such a thing existed, to what extent it would be knowable to us. Calvinism has a number of defining doctrines that are believed to be supported by biblical scripture. The one I find most interesting is “total depravity”… I think of it as “original sin” on steroids. Total depravity states that man is both unable and unwilling to fully love God and to obey him, but are inclined by man’s nature to serve themselves. This, according to Calvinists, is a bad thing.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

I was struck that total depravity, at least in it’s narrow interpretation, is actually in agreement with Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power. If you don’t already know exactly what Nietzsche means by that, I strongly suggest you abandon your preconceptions now, because the will to power is one of the most misunderstood of Nietzsche’s ideas. The will to power, according to Nietzsche, is the force that determines what is regarded as good and evil (and all values) in the minds of living things. All living things have will to power. We exercise our will to power if we choose to act independently or if we chose to obey another; either way we choose the basis of our actions and that is will to power. The will to power cannot be exercised using rationality alone – in fact rationality is typically not used at all (for one reason, the is-ought problem). Even if we were aware of a god, we still would have to exercise will to power in order to chose to obey or not (or even to recognise the concept “god”, or any other concept, requires a value judgement and WtP). Will to power is driven by psychology, not divine command. For that reason, our actions cannot be entirely guided at the most fundamental level by an external agent (be it god or anything else). This is the essence of total depravity – actions are fundamentally driven by human nature, not god. However Nietzsche strongly approves of the will to power, while Calvinists think total depravity is a negative thing – this contrast could hardly be more stark!

A new will teach I unto men: to choose that path which man hath followed blindly, and to approve of it- and no longer to slink aside from it, like the sick and perishing! Thus Spake Zarathustra

One odd quirk I notice in Calvinism is it’s striving to be spiritually dependant on god as possible, is if that could be increased even by their own doctrine. I do wonder what they think “poor in spirit” exactly entails, from the verse “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (Matthew 5:3). Calvinists seem to regard being “poor in spirit” as having the awareness of ones “spiritual situation” – particularly with regard to one’s own spiritual inadequacy. That is strange because I can be materially, educationally or artistically poor without being aware of it, at least for a time. From the doctrine of total depravity, it would seem everyone is equally poor but the awareness of that may vary from person to person. This confusion between the alleged fact and the awareness of the fact is a case of wishful thinking and loose interpretation of the word “poor”. Poor is certainly a lack of something – it is not necessarily knowledge of that lack.

A more serious objection to Calvinism might be that while they claim to be incapable of making reliable value judgements (particularly moral ones) without god’s intervention, they claim to know not only that the Bible is descriptively accurate, but that it should be used as a prescriptive basis for morality! This itself is a moral judgement. But without scriptural sanctioning, their justification for their self-doubt collapses. Given this, how are we to be reliable judgements of what holy book to follow? For all Calvinist’s know, with their fault moral compass, they are worshipping an entity other than god – possibly the devil. I mean, how would they know? To claim to know if either god or the devil are good or bad, or even to accurately distinguish them at all, is also to claim that they CAN make moral judgements independently of god or the devil, which again contradicts total depravity. (The argument that “god can help to you find god” doesn’t solve the problem because “the devil can help you to find the devil”.)

And many a one who cannot see men’s loftiness, calleth it virtue to see their baseness far too well: thus calleth he his evil eye virtue. Thus Spake Zarathustra

I imagine a problem for Christian existentialists is: assuming there is a god, why should we obey them? Merely from the fact that an entity created you, it doesn’t follow that it should be obeyed. And similarly, if someone is recognised as “King”, it doesn’t necessarily give them power over every aspect of their subjects (particularly post-Magna Carta). Playing semantic games to justify obedience to god simply fails to address the is-ought problem – which I consider to be a foundational part of existentialism: the lack of objective basis for moral actions, particular if this supposed basis is “rational”. Kierkegaard springs to mind.

Anti Citizen One

BBC: Dutch rethink Christianity for a doubtful world

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 5th, 2011

It is part of the mainstream Dutch Protestant Church, and the service is conventional enough, with hymns, readings from the Bible, and the Lord’s Prayer. But the message from Mr Hendrikse’s sermon seems bleak – “Make the most of life on earth, because it will probably be the only one you get”.

“Personally I have no talent for believing in life after death,” Mr Hendrikse says. “No, for me our life, our task, is before death.” BBC

Carl Sagan: Billions and Billions, Contact (the Movie)

Posted by Anti Citizen One on October 6th, 2010

I finished reading Billions and Billions, a collection of essays by Carl Sagan. I was already I fan of his, from the movie Contact. In “Billions”, the book has three sections – wonder at the universe (as reflected in various popular science issues he addresses), environmentalism, and social issues. The scientific issues are slightly historic, being published back in 1997. The style is very optimistic. He seems the polar opposite of Dawkins. Both are good popular science writers. But Cagan is very “glass half full” and Dawkins is known as a “glass half empty” writer. (Although this doesn’t apply to his real work on evolution, just that atheism is a denial (ish) and therefore somewhat negative. Of course, destruction is a form of creation but moving on…)

His writing in both Billions and Contact on contrasting views is notable for its optimism. For instance, pro-life and pro-choice with respect to abortion, he points out that these are two extremes and that most people and most legal systems fall into some compromise. In other cases, he points out the commonality in beliefs, e.g. environmentalism is in part driven by science and he compares it to the religious attitude of stewardship of the Earth. Sometimes, his totally constructive attitude is not quite to my taste. I guess in cases when he might refute his opponents’ views, he simply declines to comment (in a similar way to Nietzsche’s advice: “where one can no longer love, there should one – pass by“).

There are a few disparate scenes in Contact I want to mention specifically. I thought about trying to tie them together coherently, but I have been unable to do so, or too lazy. In most of the scenes I mention, two world views are contrasted. Many involve the protagonist, Ellie Arroway, who is passionate about SETI (that is the search for “little green men” aka extraterrestrial intelligence). In the first example, which provides an important illustration of Ellie’s character, teleological explanations are contrasted to mere physicalism (not to mention atheism).

Priest at the Funeral of Ellie’s Father: I know it’s hard to understand this now but we aren’t always meant to know why things happen the way they do. Sometimes, we just have to accept it as God’s will.
Ellie Arroway: I should have kept medicine in the downstairs bathroom. Then I could’ve gotten to it sooner.

Another interesting exchange is when one character justifies his actions on an essentially pessimistic or Machiavellian basis. Ellie counters with some Saganistic optimism, which is almost existential.

David Drumlin [after metaphorically stabbing Ellie in the back]: I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.
Ellie Arroway: Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.

There are loads of interesting themes that could be endlessly analysed, particularly the problem of religious extremism and the reductionism/commercialism trend in science. Both prove major antagonistic factors in the film.

Ellie quoting Palmer: “Ironically, the thing people are most hungry for – meaning – is the one thing science hasn’t been able to give them.”

Gratuitously I mention a slightly existential question, which connects to Babylon 5. The question “why am I here?” is once of the key themes of the series. The exchange has a large non-verbal element, which makes it hard to state here (which is of course appropriate for existential questions):

Ellie: [sincere but baffled] What am I doing here?
Haddon: [quietly laughs to himself, notices she expects a verbal response, then suddenly becomes almost menacing] The powers that be have been very busy lately positioning themselves for the game of the millennium. Maybe I can help deal you back in.

The response of Sagan to conflict seems to be to approach it with delicacy, subtlety and intellectual modesty. There is perhaps an echo of Spinoza trying to “understand” human actions above all. A perfect example of this attitude is given as the “last word” in the move. A kid on a school trip asks Ellie a question she KNOWS the answer to, but the way she deals with it is telling:

Kid on school trip: Are there other people out there in the universe?
Ellie Arroway: That’s a good question. What do you think?
Kid: I don’t know.
Ellie Arroway: That’s a good answer. Skeptic, huh? [glances knowingly at her colleagues] The important thing is that you all keep searching for your own answers. One thing about the universe, though. The universe is a pretty big place. It’s bigger than anything anyone has ever dreamed of before. So if it’s just us it seems like an awful waste of space. Right?

I’d say that is a healthy altitude!

Anti Citizen One

PS Another review which is good.

The Pope and Intolerant Secularism

Posted by Anti Citizen One on September 17th, 2010

I initially started writing about the pope and his recent “reductio ad Hitlerum” against atheism but the obvious points have been said. I had hoped that debate would start on a slightly more informed level. Oh well. His comments on UK culture are also interesting: “may [the UK] always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate”. What is he referring to? I will explore some ideas.

Intolerance has at least two meanings: lack of respect for other belief holders and the desire to eliminate other beliefs. Regarding respect of religious believers, I heard a radio show host ask if religious people felt unable to “speak out” because of the negative “comments” and “raised eyebrows”. I assume the ideal solution from a believers perspective is to be able to speak without any disagreement. Having someone disagree with your core values can be embarrassing and stressful. The call for no opposition to religious views to assumes they have a right to not be embarrassed by a negative reaction. Disagreement is not the same as disrespect. I suspect that most people don’t underestimate religious belief, as it has the tradition of hundreds of years. Another examples is Dawkins’s claim that teaching religion to children is a form of child abuse. Again, this is a negative view of religion, but he doesn’t disrespect the individuals in the religion, as far as I can tell. To disrespect someone’s beliefs, he would need to insult believers simply for holding their belief. His arguments rather address their beliefs but generally don’t go as far as ad hominem and therefore do not disrespect anyone. Ideas themselves are never owed respect, only people.

The other prong of intolerance is the desire to eliminate opposing beliefs. I don’t think a case can be made that UK based secularism wants to abolish religious belief. Secularism’s main demand is to be free of religious rule and teachings. Although the pope might take umbridge that his political power is curtailed, that is not the same as people removing believer’s freedom to believe. He might argue that it does hinder the practice of their religion, by reducing the influence of believers to shape society. Well that’s tough I guess. I don’t know what basis religious people think they have for imposing moral codes on non believers, but it is a right that an open society does not recognise. Having your political power brought into line with “the consent of the governed” is not “aggressive” or unfair. The pope draw an analogy between “aggressive” secularism with National Socialism (aka the Nazis). The only way this analogy is remotely valid is that secularism and the Nazi’s tried to reduce the political power of the church (through very different means). The analogy is weak, because UK secularists don’t round up christians and send them to death camps (or attempt to nationalize churches). In fact, the pope’s point applies to everyone who resists the political power of the Catholic church. “Does group X oppose Catholic political power? So did the Nazis, so X is intolerant.” Great argument *sarcastic*.

Anti Citizen One

Additional comments:

Religion, in other words, is not a problem for legislators to solve, but a vital contributor to the national conversation. In this light, I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance. There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere. There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none. And there are those who argue – paradoxically with the intention of eliminating discrimination – that Christians in public roles should be required at times to act against their conscience. These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square. I would invite all of you, therefore, within your respective spheres of influence, to seek ways of promoting and encouraging dialogue between faith and reason at every level of national life. Source

He seems to be objecting because he doesn’t dictate policy to public employees. If freedom of conscience overrules all other considerations, I could go on a murder spree and claim “my conscience made me to do it” and I’d be absolved of blame, since it overrules national government policy. After all … conscience is sacrosanct! Or is that loyalty to the pope is sacrosanct and all other belief is secondary? Which is it?

I used to think that the pope playing at politics was a historic phenomena, but I have recently changed my mind. How about he give what is Caesar’s to Caesar? And stay out of politics!

AC1

“Real” Catholic TV

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 17th, 2010

My brain hurts after discovering RealCatholicTV’s youtube channel. It is run by Michael Voris, a prolific and pretty slick presenter. But, as you might guess from someone who commits the “no true scotsman” fallacy in the name of their channel, the guy is a loon. I was very recently talking to a Catholic family member and we were agreeing that people can’t go ordering people around, specifically on recreational drugs prohibition. (I managed to resist quoting Nietzsche’s Morality as Anti-Nature.) Michael Voris takes the opposite approach – and sounds not unlike an evangelical. Question to self: are the terms Catholic and evangelical really mutually exclusive? Anyway, here is a comedy gold clip of the immorality of liberalism. My favourite part is where he accuses the liberals of being in the “don’t judge [people] crowd” (at 1 min 58 sec). That’s amusing, considering Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37-42.

I guess mainstream Catholics would strongly disagree with this guy, but I hope they keep doing that. Otherwise we will be back to the inquisition and burning people at the stake (here’s the thin end of the wedge). Michael, about that plank in your eye…

Anti Citizen One

PS. Remember Blake’s Wheel of Fire?
PPS. Evolution is not mentioned, probably because the Vatican officially has no problem with it, but climate change is discussed.
PPPS. Oh man, Michael Voris is beyond words… so many bonkers videos.

Henry Thoreau

Posted by Anti Citizen One on August 11th, 2010

I’ve been reading various Thoreau writings. He was a major figure in American Transcendentalism, along with Emerson. The movement was anti-dogma and attempted to find “truth” and “goodness” by personal reflection and intuition. For Thoreau, this meant rejecting contemporary culture and to attempt is own spiritual way in solitude and in nature. Thoreau would not really have called it solitude – he seemed perfectly happy with plants and birds as friends. His conclusion is we invent too much superfluous baggage in life which is without value. He attempts to avoid the distraction of this baggage and to focus on what he finds more important.

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, is a short account of a week spend on a river canoeing trip with his brother. There is no dialogue but, in typical style of Thoreau, it is very descriptive; the rivers, plants and animals are covered in great detail. This can be slightly heavy reading at times. He occasionally mixes proses with verse, which facilitates expressing his message, which is not rationalist, but also partly artistic. There are several digressions, mainly on the philosophy with respect to friendship.

Civil Disobedience recounts the authors experience of being imprisoned for a night for failure to pay taxes. He also includes an analysis of the relationship between the individual and the state. He observes the state cannot fully satisfy everyone, even in a democracy, given there is some differences in opinion. If the state will not be swayed by discussion, the individual is left with little recourse. Thoreau claims that a state that doesn’t represent an individual’s interests can be ignored. In his case, he objected to slavery and the Mexican–American War (he was writing in 1849). Since he refused to support these institutions, he refused to pay tax and was therefore imprisoned. His attitude is a world away from Rousseau with his “social contract“. This call for passive resistance was a forerunner to civil rights leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Walden describes the authors two year “experiment” in simple living in woods by Walden Pond, near Concord (which is near Boston). He provides almost endless descriptions of the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of nature. This can get a little … slow. But the point is tries to convey is that his life was far from boring to live (in contrast to read about). His curiosity keeps him active, not to mention spending hours hoeing his beans. His simple house was built with is own hands using little money. He also provides critique of civilization, in contrast to his life. He questions the need for progress for its own sake, such as rail roads, the telegraph, newspapers, the post office, etc. because he never has learned anything spiritually important from such things. Many of the themes were echoed in Enough by John Naish. Both say we can find happiness, or whatever we are seeking, by scaling back on consumption and avoiding distractions from what we want. I did detect a note in Thoreau of wanting to fight human instincts, but this seemed to be a passing thought. (To attempt such a thing is warned against by Nietzsche.)

I’ll write up A Life Without Principle separately, after re-reading it.

Anti Citizen One