What’s most important to you?

To kick-start the honest debate I thought I’d put some of the newcomers to this site to a brief test:

1. Which one of the following do you think is most important?

  1. Human Rights
  2. Freedom
  3. Low taxes

2. Hypothetically speaking, there are elections in your home country and there are two main leading parties, Party A and Party B.

Party A states that if it wins it will reduce taxes.

Party B states that if it wins it will raise taxes.

a. Who would you vote for Party A or Party B?

You then learn, after some investigation that:

Party A will reduce taxes but it will do so by initiating trade deals with some of the world’s worst dictators.

Party B will raise taxes but it will give all of the extra money to the poor in another country.

b. Who would you vote for now?

c. Who do you think the majority of fellow citizens would vote for?

I tried this test with a group of students of many different backgrounds and nationalities. The overwhelming majority admitted they would vote for Party A even after knowing that they would be encouraging relations with dictatorships. This was despite the fact that a majority of them considered ‘human rights’ and ‘freedom’ as most important.

In a sense, the low taxes in this test can be replaced with the concept of ‘self-interest’. The reality is that when people go to the ballot box, they aren’t really concerned with human rights or freedoms, the only thing that really matters is if the next government will be beneficial to them or not.

There is a possibility that people would be willing to sacrifice their interests and pay taxes for the poor in their own countries, but the harsh reality is that we are rarely willing to sacrifice for those in another country.

Is this ‘human rights’ or is it the rights of fellow nationals?

The second question to consider is that if we give absolute freedom to people how do people decide between right and wrong, or who to vote for or not? Self interest is an inevitable consequence of freedom. What’s worrying about this reality is that one man’s freedom is more often than not another man’s slavery. And one man’s gain is almost always another man’s loss. One country’s interest is not necessarily the interest of another. Are we to remain in this constant cycle of conflict stemming from a clash of self-interest?

There are obvious flaws with this model of democracy. Whilst many governments are claiming to spread democracy to the rest of the world and assuming that it is the best system for man, have we stopped considering the problems it brings?

If you’d like to be part of this debate, please write in to honestdebate@gmail.com All views are welcome so long as they comply with the rules stated in the About Honest Debate page.

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25 responses to “What’s most important to you?”

  1. leeharrison says :

    Hi HD,

    thought I’d take your invitation to come over and take a look.

    Q.1 – I’d rank human rights higher than freedom for the simple reason that human rights by definition place responsibilities on others. For example, stating that an individual has the right to life is utterly meaningless unless that statement is really a shorthand term expressing the responsibility of others to not kill that individual.

    In other words, if we believe that human rights are important at all then we have already accepted that freedom has limitations.

    Q.2 – this one is much harder to answer because it is a hypothetical example lacking context. I would vote for increased taxes if the party identified beneficial programs as a target for the extra money. I would also be willing to vote for lower taxes if the party identified means of making up for the shortfall in government spending, perhaps by trimming fat from the budget. Without that context a real decision is impossible because neither raised taxes or lowered taxes are, of themselves, either good or bad.

    The context given in the second half of the question makes it easier to give an answer – I would vote for a party that increased taxes in order to increase international aid over a party who made deals with oppressive dictatorships. Unfortunately voters in western oil-dependent nations don’t often get that choice. If the country is to run (without a massive overhaul in infrastructure) then we need oil – most of which is, unfortunately, provided by foreign dictatorships. Because of this, the party who promises international aid and the party who makes deals with dictators tend to be the same party. I should also mention that here in Australia it is illegal to protest this pragmatic accommodation by witholding your vote since voting is compulsory.

    I broadly agree with your comments on self-interest but I think that part of the solution is actually more self-interest but of a different kind. Educated, enlightened self-interest leads to better places than coarse ‘what’s immediately in it for me’ self-interest.

    Example – Using the style of self-interest that you outlined above a person could reach the conclusion that they ought to be allowed to take whatever they want from whomever they want. The problem with this, that would eventually become apparent to our hypothetical person, is that it would then be much harder for them to argue against others taking from them. Enlightened self-interest would instead ask the question, “How can I aid in the production of a society that I would wish to live in?” One of the answers is, “By following the rules I expect others to follow.” In other words, if you don’t steal from me, I won’t steal from you. That is a gross simplification, of course, but this comment is already getting too long.

  2. leeharrison says :

    The second question to consider is that if we give absolute freedom to people how do people decide between right and wrong, or who to vote for or not?

    This question seems to rely on a nonsequiter – a lack of freedom does not provide tools for deciding right from wrong, and absolute freedom does not take those tools away. Whether free or not human beings will always make a determination of right and wrong in the same way we always have – a combination of the moral sense provided to us over time by evolution and the zeitgeist of the society we find ourselves in.

    Where freedom comes into the equation is in determining our ability to act on our moral inclinations. Laws are generally in place to limit the ability to act in people whose moral sense is abberent or lacking, as decided by society as a whole.

    There are obvious flaws with this model of democracy. Whilst many governments are claiming to spread democracy to the rest of the world and assuming that it is the best system for man, have we stopped considering the problems it brings?

    I think the key problem here is that the U.S. government is claiming to spread democracy but is actually doing no such thing. Iraq had a democratic election and, since the result was not to the liking of the U.S., the election was ignored and the occupation continued. The ‘democracy’ being spread by the U.S. is certainly not the best system for mankind – but then, it’s not actually democracy.

    I can’t remember who said the following, or even exactly how they said it, but – Democracy is a terribly flawed system of government that is better than all of the alternatives.

  3. honestdebate says :

    thanks for the comments. i get the sense we could be talking about this until the cows come home.

    I take your point that it is a hypothetical example without a context. But the simple questions reveal our real values and what we consider to be most important. I do believe there are people out there who think about the general good, but reality is far more complicated and we’re all faced with difficult decisions in our complex lives.

    Taking third world poverty as a more realistic example. It is simply not in the interest of the majority to sacrifice their standards of living and step down in a competitive world for the sake of the poor in another country.

    ‘If you don’t steal from me, I wont’ steal from you’ doesn’t answer ‘what happens if you do steal from me?’ what would then be the appropriate response? who decides what IS appropriate response?

    the real world is an ugly place. And like you said, freedom doesn’t come without limitations. so who has the right to define those limitations. as far as evolution goes, in solving this, i’d ask you your thoughts about the social and moral decline? is this not the result of evolution? how much worse does it have to get before we realise we’re not actually progressing.

    lastly, to those who think democracy is a flawed system but the only viable alternative… i ask – how do they know this? isn’t it the same system that’s been drilling us with misinformation trying to convince us this is the best and only alternative?

    i think it’s time to think out of the box…

    thanks for the comments once again.

  4. leeharrison says :

    …the simple questions reveal our real values and what we consider to be most important.

    And what if what we really value falls between the cracks in the question? The questions in your original post seems to be there to make a point rather than to lead to an understanding. Of course, there’s nothing actually wrong with that, it just needs acknowledging.

    ‘what happens if you do steal from me?’ what would then be the appropriate response? who decides what IS appropriate response?

    Society decides, as expressed throught the medium of Laws. Respect for the rule of Law is a basic requirement of civil society as it mediates between our baser desires and our yearning to a better way.

    freedom doesn’t come without limitations. so who has the right to define those limitations

    As before, society as a whole. Keep in mind that society as a whole has decided upon the rights that imply the limitations being discussed here. Even the right to life, and the commitent responsibility not to kill, is a societal construct. It is in no way enshrined in nature – fall overboard on a an ocean voyage and complain all you like to the sea, it will make no difference. Rights only matter when there are others to bear the adjoining responsibilities.

    i’d ask you your thoughts about the social and moral decline? is this not the result of evolution? how much worse does it have to get before we realise we’re not actually progressing.

    First: evolution does not, despite popular misunderstandings to the contrary, imply either a tendency towards upwards progression or towards decline. It is simply change – change that fits the environment of the moment, whether that be a step for some nebulous ‘good’ or some other equally nebulous ‘ill’. All that matters to evolution is survival rates.

    There is a great body of work now showing that when evolution hits upon cooperative ‘enlightened self-interest’ style strategies (better known as reciprocal altruism), those populations do better than populations where ‘every thing for itself’ is the rule. It is no accident that the great majority of human populations around the world and through history view murder as a bad thing – cultures without the ‘right to life’ meme, and the shared responsibilities that go with it, have tended to self destruct.

    As for the social and moral decline that has been much-noted by commentators all around the world: it is an illusion.

    “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
    Plato.

    Every generation has bemoaned the failure of morals and standards, predicting doom before the generation passes. They’ve mostly been wrong. In reality, I suspect, the value of human life is held in higher regard now than at any time in history. Yes, there’s still plenty that’s screwed up – and that can usually be traced to corrupt individuals or sytems. Systems that are, in fact, bemoaned by the general populace when, not too long ago, no one would have cared the slightest if foreigners were dying (and on the foreigners part, the thought of asking for international aid would have been ludicrous).

    Concentrating on our lack of perfection misses entirely what we have managed to acheive.

    lastly, to those who think democracy is a flawed system but the only viable alternative… i ask – how do they know this? isn’t it the same system that’s been drilling us with misinformation trying to convince us this is the best and only alternative?

    i think it’s time to think out of the box…

    Mainly it’s known because other systems have been tried and have miserably failed. Dogmatic socialism led to the Nazi’s, dogmatic communism (a perversion of Marx’s writings) led to the excesses of Communist Rusia and the opression in Communist China. The Italian’s experiment with fascism went nowhere fast, theocracies all over the world more closely resemble lunatic asylums, and monarchies were such an onbviously unfair system that they actually drove the development of modern democracy as a replacement.

    Democracy, especially as represented by the U.S., is currently in a period of unbearable corruption and excess, where the greed of a few has been allowed to dominate since those same few also control the flow of information (accurate information about the government’s dealings is essential to informed government of and by the people). America has forgotten its goals in the past too, and had similar periods of unfortunate excess – each of which was followed by a populist backlash of the sort that only a democracy can sustain and provide for.

    I would ask you – what’s your alternative? I’m assuming you have one.

    (Understand that I don’t wish to be either confrontational or overbearing, here – I simply believe that any form of debate must be plainly stated and to the point.)

  5. leeharrison says :

    Apologies once more for my lack of proof reading…

  6. honestdebate says :

    Hi Lee,

    Interesting…

    I accept that evolution just leads to change and doesn’t necessarily equate to progress, however, surely progress should be the desired outcome? if society at any given time dictates the boundaries, then our views are just circumstancial and depend upon the time and society in which we live and not based on any concrete values. For example, the view on abortion would have been quite different in europe about a hundred years ago. There are still many countries in many parts of the world that are against it. Simple rights of individuals doesn’t solve the problem – as this situation involves the rights of the mother, the father and the child. there are many other examples in life where our rights overlap. The laws change with time, depending on who is able to convince the masses at any given time or place.

    i agree, respect for the rule of law is crucial to civil society. the fundamental question is who decides those laws? like mentioned above, time and place influence it – that doesn’t necessarily make it based on thought. Although i understand your point that the informed masses would base opinions on thought, it isn’t really possible when the information and media outlets operate in the same flawed system. we are in a viscious circle.

    social and moral decline is very real. i’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit (although i don’t think that’s a pre-requisite for having opinons on world issues). Teenage pregnancies, rising crime, back-street abortions, increased depression amongst the youth, gang-culture, corruption and perhaps the mother of all – starvation and poverty are all enough examples. yeh sure it can be argued that these problems have always been there, but what is the point of continuing down a path that we know is not going to lead us the right way?

    finally, i did ask the questions from a view, but it is an honest attempt to ask people if they have any answers. So far the best i’ve heard (and this is not a personal dig at you), is that there are flaws in the democratic model but it’s the best option we have. if that’s the best that it’s supporters can do, then it’s definitely an area worth looking into don’t you think?

    i can’t look at the achievements and give us a pat on the back for our gains. I think it’s important we look at the short-comings of an ideology if we are to propagate it. Assuming you are a believer in the secular democratic model, how do you suggest we solve the problem of third world poverty, usurping other peoples’ resources etc.

    I have lived in the middle east for a while, and would ask – what if the majority of the middle east or muslim world wanted to govern on the basis of islam. they being the ‘educated and well-informed masses’ who want their resources to benefit their people and countries first, ie, use the oil to strengthen their own economies, whilst seriously damaging the already fragile economies in the west. How do you think the majority in the west would respond? is it not the democratic right of the people in the muslim world to decide their own future for their own nation. would you be willing to support them. and furthermore, what if they wanted islam as a system? and this was the decision of the masses? who have experienced life under communist russia (afghanistan, uzbekistan, chechnya) and have lived through colonialism, and are still witnessing the effects of capitalism.

    if they opted for an islamic system, what would be your view? (and assuming you’re amongst the more informed, i don’t mean the saudi arabian, iranian or taliban model).

    i’m sorry if i come across offensive in any way. the purpose of my blog is to encourage honest debate and discussion for the purpose of achieving a greater informed and progressive society.

    and yes, i do believe in an alternative, i believe in the islamic system – but sense that people more often than not have opinions about this without having looked into it honestly. their opinions often stem from the same flawed system that is becoming increasingly islamophobic in my view. i hope you will not rule it out without investigating it fully.

    apologies for the lengthy comment. please don’t hesitate to post any of your thoughts.

    honest debate

  7. leeharrison says :

    I accept that evolution just leads to change and doesn’t necessarily equate to progress, however, surely progress should be the desired outcome?

    Evolution does not care about about desired outcomes and cannot be led – it is in no way teleological. The use of ‘evolution’ as a talking point here is either a red herring or a misunderstanding of the term.

  8. leeharrison says :

    if society at any given time dictates the boundaries, then our views are just circumstancial and depend upon the time and society in which we live and not based on any concrete values.

    Exactly – but I take it that you think this is a bad thing, so let me ask you a question: Where would the ‘concrete values’ come from? Since it seems from the rest of your post that these answers will come from your religion, who gets to decide which interpretation of these values is the correct one?

    The answer, of course, is the people as a whole, right?

  9. leeharrison says :

    social and moral decline is very real. i’ve had the opportunity to travel quite a bit (although i don’t think that’s a pre-requisite for having opinons on world issues). Teenage pregnancies, rising crime, back-street abortions, increased depression amongst the youth, gang-culture, corruption and perhaps the mother of all – starvation and poverty are all enough examples. yeh sure it can be argued that these problems have always been there, but what is the point of continuing down a path that we know is not going to lead us the right way?

    Again – it is an illusion. You toss away the line, “Sure, it can be argued that these problems have always been there,” as if it was somehow irrelevant. It’s not – this is the key point that that you need to engage with if the debate is to be honest. These problems have always been there, they have traditionally occurred in far higher percentages than they do now, and most importantly: people in general did not care about them in the slightest.

    You think that modern civilisation has made no progress but you yourself, in finding the situations above objectionable, demonstrate the key moral progress that has been made.

    Were there international aid organisations hundreds of years ago? Were there counselling organisations staffed by volunteers and financially supported by donations from thousand of people? Of course not.

    Again – it is simple fact that there are many terrible problems in the world, but to ignore or discount the progress that has been made is to ignore a whole load of other simple facts.

  10. leeharrison says :

    So far the best i’ve heard (and this is not a personal dig at you), is that there are flaws in the democratic model but it’s the best option we have. if that’s the best that it’s supporters can do, then it’s definitely an area worth looking into don’t you think?

    Yes it is worth looking into – but that’s not what you are doing here. What I’ve seen on your other posts and in the comments so far reminds me of the tactics of the anti-evolution movement: pick at holes, provide a few negative examples, and avoid stating any real alternatives.

    i can’t look at the achievements and give us a pat on the back for our gains. I think it’s important we look at the short-comings of an ideology if we are to propagate it.

    I can’t decide if this point is a strawman or a non-sequiter – either way, it’s fallacious. You have not looked at the shortcomings of an ideology at all. You’ve simply stated examples of failures in real world implementation, as if any ‘decent’ ideology would be somehow immune from the failures of individuals. The real world is more complex than you are allowing for.

    Also, you can’t support your own ideology by simply pointing out supposed flaws in others. Your own ideology needs to be put on the table and examined on its own.

    You don’t need to convince me, or most of the rest of the world, that the actions of the U.S. in the middle east over the last 8 years have been thoroughly reprehensible and are getting worse. What you don’t seem to allow for is that the US citizens feel the same way and are now in the process of letting the government know that.

    I wonder, under whichever islamic system you favour, how the people would go about reigning in similar government excess.

    Assuming you are a believer in the secular democratic model, how do you suggest we solve the problem of third world poverty, usurping other peoples’ resources etc.

    Good questions, one’s which have taxed every government in the world – those that bothered to think about them, anyway. What is Islam’s record on dealing with, or addressing in any way, poverty and resource-wars? (Not a rhetorical point, incidentally, but an actual question.)

    The fact is that third world poverty will not be dealt with in our lifetimes – it is too large a problem. That does not mean that it is insoluble, however – but it will never be solved by any system that does not hear the voice of the people. Totalitarian governments have never been the agents of progress, democracies have. Slavery, as an example, ended when the people as a whole were made aware of the plight of the slaves – when people were educated and challenged by a few concerned individuals, the zeitgeist changed and the people demanded action. As another example, women’s rights to self-determination were recognised when the people demanded it loudly after being educated and challenged by passionate individuals.

    Yes, democratic countries still have a long way to go – but the fact that they are democratic gives them the means of travelling.

  11. leeharrison says :

    More to come on the second half of your comment, but right now I have to work.

    Thanks

  12. honestdebate says :

    Hi Mobile Science,

    I think I came across your blog in the recent past. could you please send me a link, i’m a bit new to blogging and didn’t quite get your comment.

    sorry,
    Honest Debate

  13. leeharrison says :

    Hi HD – Mobile Science is the name of my blog. I’m the leeharrison who has been commenting so far. Blog address: http://leeharrison.wordpress.com

  14. honestdebate says :

    Thanks!

    I’m going to borrow your style of replying coz it makes sense… Otherwise I wouldn’t know where to begin.

    Evolution does not care about about desired outcomes and cannot be led – it is in no way teleological. The use of ‘evolution’ as a talking point here is either a red herring or a misunderstanding of the term.

    It certainly isn’t an intended ‘red herring’, and perhaps a misunderstanding. I was simply trying to reply to the point you made earlier about evolution not intending progress. I may have misunderstood your point. Apologies for that.

    Exactly – but I take it that you think this is a bad thing, so let me ask you a question: Where would the ‘concrete values’ come from? Since it seems from the rest of your post that these answers will come from your religion, who gets to decide which interpretation of these values is the correct one?

    Yes, in my view the concrete values can come from a religion and the interpretation of these values comes through discussing the sources and taking the strongest interpretation (in certain areas where there may be confusion).

    From my experience people (particularly non-Muslims) find this extremely difficult to appreciate and often rule it out without honestly investigating it. I’m not saying this IS true for everyone, but is based on my experience. This is perhaps the reason why I haven’t jumped the gun and started banging on about the Islamic ideology or system. I’m not dodging it, just think it’s appropriate to talk about it when people are actually listening.

    I do think it is a weakness if values are dictated by time and place. It doesn’t necessarily lead to justice. The self-interest factor is the reason why values and rules need to come from other than human beings (in my view of course). We simply can’t leave human beings to decide right and wrong, as they are limited by their individual experiences. Like you mentioned (later I think) that individuals are weak and make mistakes… as system or an ideology that comes from the human mind has to be limited when compared to one from the creator.

    I know this is irrelevant to the non-Muslims, as they don’t believe in the same texts that Muslims refer to. But if Muslims in the Muslim world believe in it and want to implement it then they should be allowed to do so. Surely?

    You think that modern civilisation has made no progress but you yourself, in finding the situations above objectionable, demonstrate the key moral progress that has been made.

    Were there international aid organisations hundreds of years ago? Were there counselling organisations staffed by volunteers and financially supported by donations from thousand of people? Of course not.

    Modern civlisation has made some progresses in some areas. But it has failed in securing basic human rights for all individuals (poverty and inequality) , it has failed in providing security (growing crime rates) or justice (fathers for justice in the UK or abortion or even sentences for rape) etc.

    Possibly the glass is half empty for me and half full for you. But I can’t accept the international aid organisations and volunteers or donations as a possible plus point. Although the intentions of the aid workers may be great and perfectly honourable, I don’t think these organisations come anywhere new solving the problems. Much of the money people donate goes towards managing and administration costs of the organisations and it’s not a solution at all.

    I guess someone like you would focus on how it’s a step in the right direction, but I’m trying to spend my energy thinking about the 25,000 people that die a day due to hunger. To describe aid organisations, donations and charity as a disproportionate response would be an understatement.

    Yes it is worth looking into – but that’s not what you are doing here. What I’ve seen on your other posts and in the comments so far reminds me of the tactics of the anti-evolution movement: pick at holes, provide a few negative examples, and avoid stating any real alternatives.

    I think I touched upon this earlier. I’m not avoiding stating examples for the reason that people often switch off and don’t consider Islam as a viable alternative. And I would like to know here out of curiosity, you seem like an honest individual, how do you think you would have responded to the blog had I started off by stating the great achievements of the Islamic civilisations in the past and how they dealt with poverty?

    I’m not picking holes for the sake of picking them. There are very obvious problems all around us and am trying to highlight that very little is being done by it. Would you not agree?

    You have not looked at the shortcomings of an ideology at all. You’ve simply stated examples of failures in real world implementation, as if any ‘decent’ ideology would be somehow immune from the failures of individuals. The real world is more complex than you are allowing for.

    I would disagree. I have looked at the shortcomings of the capitalist and socialist ideologies. I’m not claiming to be an expert on this and may not have explained it in the best way – I think you’re jumping to conclusions here by assuming that I am attacking for the sake of it as part of some ‘anti-evolution movement’.

    I agree the real world is more complex. And human beings do make mistakes. If you’re suggesting that an Islamic system wouldn’t work because human error would lead to injustices, then how can you at the same time support a system that comes from humans? Isn’t that going to have greater injustices?

    And just in case you’re going to now suggest that all religions were thought of by individuals, I’d ask you to read up on that before you make that conclusion. Have you ever looked into Islam? The Quran is a physical proof in front of us, not a word changed since it was revealed… where do you think it came from? And how did you arrive at this answer? (A genuine question).

    Also, you can’t support your own ideology by simply pointing out supposed flaws in others. Your own ideology needs to be put on the table and examined on its own.

    I think I’ve answered this above, explaining my reasons for not talking about Islam first. I will be posting some articles on this in the near future hopefully. Again, not shying away from it, I am a little busy at the moment but will reply shortly with some examples of how Islam deals with poverty and resource and wars and women.

    I accept that most people have lost confidence in the US model but use it as an example to raise more awareness. It may well be that I’m preaching to the choir, but worth mentioning whilst the American government has strong links with governments in the Muslim world.

    Will write soon with a brief explanation of how Islam is different to totalitarian governments. (another popular misconception)

  15. leeharrison says :

    (To aid readability, I’ll break my responses into several sections.)

    It certainly isn’t an intended ‘red herring’, and perhaps a misunderstanding. I was simply trying to reply to the point you made earlier about evolution not intending progress. I may have misunderstood your point. Apologies for that.

    No worries – I mainly just want to set aside evolution as a talking point since, in my experience, it has a great capacity to cloud issues – especially where religion and politics are involved.

    Yes, in my view the concrete values can come from a religion and the interpretation of these values comes through discussing the sources and taking the strongest interpretation (in certain areas where there may be confusion).

    Why the strongest interpretation? Is this insurance against misunderstanding Allah’s will? What if His will is really the weaker interpretation – how could you tell, and who has authority to decide? How do you decide who has that authority? Ultimately, the final say does not truly rest with scripture but with mortal man.

    From my experience people (particularly non-Muslims) find this extremely difficult to appreciate and often rule it out without honestly investigating it. I’m not saying this IS true for everyone, but is based on my experience. This is perhaps the reason why I haven’t jumped the gun and started banging on about the Islamic ideology or system. I’m not dodging it, just think it’s appropriate to talk about it when people are actually listening.

    I think you’ll find that many western Christians have no problem with the concept of scripture being the concrete reality and final say in regards to values. Of course, they have a different set of writings… As I stated in a reply to a recent comment of yours on my blog, it would have been better if you had ‘jumped the gun’ and been upfront from the start. Yes, you would have guaranteed a certain number of unpleasant comments from idiots, but so what – they’re idiots.

  16. leeharrison says :

    I do think it is a weakness if values are dictated by time and place. It doesn’t necessarily lead to justice.

    Aside from faith, what makes you so certain that following scripture always leads to justice?

    The self-interest factor is the reason why values and rules need to come from other than human beings (in my view of course). We simply can’t leave human beings to decide right and wrong, as they are limited by their individual experiences.

    Not at all. The self-interest factor is why values and rules need to come from societies – large groups of individuals with sometimes shared and sometimes opposing values, finding a common ground for the good of all. For this reason, humans are not limited by their individual experiences either – we are social animals and can share and learn from the experiences of others. We can leave humans to decide right and wrong – guided by the societies they are a part of and whose values they share – because all humans already do exactly that regardless of the presence or lack of a holy scripture.

    Let me explain what I mean – when a person follows the dictates of their scripture, what are they really following? They’re following, most probably, their own understanding of the scripture and, most importantly, they have chosen to take their own feelings and thoughts about that as the highest judge of what is true. When a man says, “I trust in the Lord,” or “I trust in Allah,” what he means is, “I trust that my personal understanding of these words and feelings is correct.” Just the same as when, say, a secular humanist declares his belief that killing is wrong, except that in this case, because that value is not enshrined, it can vary in response to new information. Killing is, in general, wrong – but I would still shoot a man if it was the only way to stop him torturing children, for instance.

    Also, values that are held to be inviolate, immutable, unchanging and holy do not lead to justice very often. The rules of action and behaviour laid down in either the Bible or the Quran simply cannot fit every situation in a world far removed from the ones they were written in. There is no room for growth and modification in response to new challenges – and, as a result, many of the specifics of both books are now, fairly and rightly, considered repellent. In comparison, the ideals and values that have been determined by society are adaptable – and are more compassionate as a result.

    Like you mentioned (later I think) that individuals are weak and make mistakes… as system or an ideology that comes from the human mind has to be limited when compared to one from the creator.

    First, you’d have to convince your neighbour of the existence of your creator. You may say ’till you’re blue in the face that you have The Creator’s True Wishes written down in a book – how does that aid you in getting along with, or governing, those who don’t believe you?

    Second – I would contend that we do not, in fact, have a system handed to us by a creator. We have a system handed to us by years of superstition in the hearts and minds of men all too aware of their own mortality. MOre on this later.

    I think it’s fair to say that all of the recent points regarding values and faith are going to be sticking points in this discussion..

  17. leeharrison says :

    I know this is irrelevant to the non-Muslims, as they don’t believe in the same texts that Muslims refer to. But if Muslims in the Muslim world believe in it and want to implement it then they should be allowed to do so. Surely?

    I would completely agree – Muslims have the right to self determination and the actions of the U.S. government are appalling. Be aware that this is the view of the majority of the democratic world, which predominantly views the recent occupation as a stain on the honour of democracy.

    I would also, however, say that the Islamic world’s right to self determination does not necessarily mean that it is correct in the system it chooses, or that the system it chooses is better just because they chose it. Also, how do you govern the non-religious in a religious system? There are definitely unbelievers in the Muslim world, as well as converts to other religions. What of them?

  18. leeharrison says :

    Modern civlisation has made some progresses in some areas.

    This progress is far more important than you allow.

    But it has failed in securing basic human rights for all individuals (poverty and inequality) , it has failed in providing security (growing crime rates) or justice (fathers for justice in the UK or abortion or even sentences for rape) etc.

    Check out this story and this follow-up and then try to tell me what the Islamic world has to offer the West in terms of justice for rape and murder.

  19. leeharrison says :

    (Previous comment contains links and so may be awaiting moderation)

    I guess someone like you would focus on how it’s a step in the right direction, but I’m trying to spend my energy thinking about the 25,000 people that die a day due to hunger

    And as a result of accepting nothing less than perfection, get nowhere.

    To describe aid organisations, donations and charity as a disproportionate response would be an understatement.

    I firmly agree that aid organisations and charities are not currently up to the job of fixing everything – in fact I said as much in a recent comment. You, however, seem to say that because it’s not enough, it’s useless – this is so illogical as to beggar the imagination.

  20. leeharrison says :

    I’m not avoiding stating examples for the reason that people often switch off and don’t consider Islam as a viable alternative. And I would like to know here out of curiosity, you seem like an honest individual, how do you think you would have responded to the blog had I started off by stating the great achievements of the Islamic civilisations in the past and how they dealt with poverty?

    Had you done so, that would have warranted the name ‘Honest Debate’. You can’t claim to be honest when you are deliberately hiding something. And, for what it’s worth, I would have read the claims, checked them against other sources as I do for any new claim I’m interested in, and then assuming all was correct I’d have been compelled to ask, “So what went wrong?”

    I’m not picking holes for the sake of picking them. There are very obvious problems all around us and am trying to highlight that very little is being done by it. Would you not agree?

    I do agree – I just don’t find it useful without also providing suggestions for improvement.

    I have looked at the shortcomings of the capitalist and socialist ideologies. I’m not claiming to be an expert on this and may not have explained it in the best way

    Please show me where. As I said, I can find plenty of examples of failures of implementation and failures of individuals – nothing showing flaws in the ideology of democracy, which is, after all, what we started talking about.

    I think you’re jumping to conclusions here by assuming that I am attacking for the sake of it as part of some ‘anti-evolution movement’.

    Re-read what I said. I did not say or assume that you were an anti-evolutionist. I said that I recognise similar tactics. Anti-evolutionists are not the only people who dissemble.

  21. leeharrison says :

    If you’re suggesting that an Islamic system wouldn’t work because human error would lead to injustices, then how can you at the same time support a system that comes from humans? Isn’t that going to have greater injustices?

    That’s not what I’m suggesting – I would, however, suggest that an Islamic system would fail for the same reasons that a Christian system would fail, as a Hindu system, as, in fact, any dogmatic system where the rules are considered inviolate and holy. It would fail because it could not grow – as history has shown.

    And just in case you’re going to now suggest that all religions were thought of by individuals, I’d ask you to read up on that before you make that conclusion. Have you ever looked into Islam? The Quran is a physical proof in front of us, not a word changed since it was revealed… where do you think it came from? And how did you arrive at this answer? (A genuine question).

    I have read plenty regarding different religions, though mostly Christianity (I was an evangelical Christian for almost 10 years – I am now an atheist). Religions-as-topics-of-learning was once a hobby of mine.

    Neither the Quran nor the Bible are physical proof of anything beyond the existence of important myths and stories tied to cultural identity. The fact that the text of the Quran has not changed (if that even is a fact… check here) is proof of nothing beyond the time and energy that mankind is willing to devote towards the things we believe to be important.

    Where did it come from? Same place the Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Bhagavad Gita, etc came from – the minds, fears, desires, knowledge and culture of men.

    I would add to this that there is still much value to be had from examining an ideology in light of others, also.

  22. leeharrison says :

    …will reply shortly with some examples of how Islam deals with poverty and resource and wars and women.

    Glad to see it.

    Thanks for your replies. We must both be careful not to take offence at each other – it is all too easy, when discussing politics, faith or both, to take honest disagreement as insult.

  23. leeharrison says :

    Off topic: admin tip. If you want to make quotes from other posts/comments stand separate to your own text, you need to enclose the quote in brackets like this:

    [blockquote] Here is the quoted text. [/blockquote]

    except that the square brackets [] need to be replaced with angle brackets , resulting in:

    Here is the quoted text.

  24. honestdebate says :

    Thanks for the tip 🙂

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