Thursday, February 19, 2009

My genetic code made me do it.

Here is an interesting video (that Ray Comfort linked to in order to get a pot shot at atheists).

It is summarized as "A brilliant serial killer videotapes his debates with college faculty victims. The topic: His moral right to kill them. " Sounds worthy of interest, right? Few things wrong with the description, though.
1. There is only one victim that we know of.
2. The person involved is hardly brilliant, even if they try to come off as such. 3. There is no real "debate", since the college professor is expected to be the one to make the case against the "moral right" in question, with the serial killer assuming that he has that right by default if the professor fails to make that case. 4. It fails to mention that it is the masturbatory fantasy of someone with hangups about biological determinism.


It's too bad that the first minute isn't the entire video, because then it would be pretty damn good quality, and not so filled with questionable (though still pretty good) acting ability and similarly questionable pretenses.

The exchange goes as follows (sort of paraphrased):
Killer: "LOLWUT? Biology determines behavior? Well then why can't I just kill you?"
Professor: [snivel] "It's illegal"
Killer: "I won't get caught"
Professor: "It's wrong"
Killer: [dramatic stare] "But that's morality. DNA determines behavior. DNA doesn't have morality. Therefore, there is no such thing as morality and I can kill you. QED."
Professor: "Your DNA is abnormal"
Killer: "But that's statistics. That doesn't tell us right from wrong"
Professor: "Society says it's wrong"
Killer: "Society is just another word for statistical average"
Professor: "Our species won't survive if we allow killing"
Killer: "No, you won't survive. I will. Me and my DNA"
Professor: "You're a sick man"
Killer: [taser] "I'm a genetically determined man with a biological predisposition towards aggression. Killing is in my genes...If all that I am is genetically determined, why should I not kill you?"
[whine, whine, whine, blah, blah, blah, whine, blah, whine, blah, end, music plays].

Okay, key issues here.
First off, the first, second, and fourth argument given by the professor are, as far as I can tell, deeply rooted in the fifth argument (that our species would die out if we allowed killing...of the in group). It is an argument for why we, collectively, have prohibitions against killing. Yet, the "brilliant serial killer" just ducks under this altogether by worrying only about the individual level. He does that first by dismissing the illegality of murder with the assumption that he will not get caught. Even if he could be reasonably certain of that, he still has to make certain sacrifices (whether it is resources to dispose of the body, effort to conceal it and make sure that his death isn't associated with you, risk of guilt that most people would feel, and the fact that relationships with other people on your own part could fuck you up incredibly), to the extent that being a murderer hardly seems worth the time.

His second rebuttal is terrible. And not just because our behavior is not solely determined by DNA. We are affected by a wide variety of environmental factors as well as pure genetics, whether it is in the form of chemical intake, specific non-chemical stimuli, or subjective psychological experiences (emotions, stress, usually associated with another environmental factor), which all shape our development, our minds, and consequently our behavior. But, that aside, the idea that just because genes do not have "morality" does not mean that we cannot. Morality exists on the human level of interactions. You might as well be saying that humans are not conscious because cells don't have consciousness. That a brick house doesn't have electricity because bricks aren't electric. That the sun can't be hot because individual hydrogen atoms don't have termperatures. Saying that something doesn't exist at a micro level, and therefore there is no such at a macro level, is just a sloppy assumption.

I guess I agree that statistics don't necessarily tell you right from wrong. I don't agree that "society is just another word for statistical average" though. It is an interesting statement, and I guess it just means to state, in light of the previous statement, that "society" is just another word for "normality". That's true to an extent. But it is also slightly more than that, in that society is a "statistical average" that can be changed, but only within certain confines, and needs to remain in some form in order for humans who currently belong to said society to function optimally (i.e. survive). So, there are "abnormal" behaviors not condoned by an individual society because it falls beyond the scope of the "normal" range of behaviors contained by said society. And then there are behaviors that are actively harmful to the continued existence of a society, and its members, and is considered "abnormal" behavior in nearly every context and every society. In this sense, the statistics are hinting at the difference between right and wrong. The societies that go under and the behaviors contributing to it that subsequently stop existing in other societies in order to allow them to remain functional: probably a good indicator that the behavior in question is "wrong".

As for his last rant, about being genetically predisposed towards aggression: your predispositions towards certain behaviors do not make them acceptable behaviors. Sure, we can still pity you for having that aggression to begin with and having to deal with it, but having aggression is an entirely different animal than actually acting upon it. All that you are is not genetically determined (even if a good chunk of it is), but even if you were solely destined towards certain behavior by factors beyond your control, you would not know it. We can know the influences, but not how people will actually act due to those influences, and as such, even if you effectively lack free will, you are seemingly able to decide your course of actions as if you do. Of course, this is an argument for why one shouldn't kill, as much as dealing with the fact that lack of free will on a large scale (being predestined by biology) doesn't matter if you don't necessarily know what that destiny is on the scale that we actually live in. Sociopathy and aggression can drive people to kill, but, as far as we can tell, it doesn't force them to, especially in a manner in which they have to accept it as an inevitability.


Saint Brian the Godless said...

His genetic code is atavistic. Once an effective survival strategy, blind agression became contra-survival when mankind formed societies. It still can work from time to time, but on the average it's an outdated survival strategy with too many risks to be truly considered as a viable lifestyle.

pboyfloyd said...

It's a straw-man argument.

The serial killer is a sociopath who didn't learn to treat people as people.

They're just objects to be manipulated, as this serial killer is supposedly doing in this skit.

But he's trying to blame his genes, which is ludicrous. How he acts towards other people is entirely to do with is upbringing, his environment.

This is not what Christians are making it out to be though. His, the killer's individual environment was not, "Oh the world is cruel, why should'nt I be too."

It's more, "People are worthless objects, toys."

Who knows how many mothers had children imagining them as THEIR toy, while the father(if he stuck around) only imagined the kids as his burden.

"Hey, I put a roof over MY kids' heads and shoes on their feet, made sure they went to school to learn 'life', it's not my fault they 'turned bad'. I ain't no rocket surgeon!"

mac said...

I wonder what Comfort was trying to say by including this video.

Is this just a couple of atheists eating each other? I suppose the professor should have had a tortured conversion?

One could make a similar vid with a Ted Haggard type being tortured by a "real" cristian - because god said so. He could even use the Bible to back his claims.

As to the video itself: the serial killer is just fucked in the head.

Stacy said...

Is Comfort trying to say that all atheists break everything down to the cellular level and therefore are ALL capable of being serial killers??
That seems to be the standard argument -

"Science lernin' turns ya intah Hitler."

pboyfloyd said...

LMAO mac.

It is really an analogy.

The truth of it is that Ray Comfort is fucked in the head.

You 'nailed it'!

pboyfloyd said...

Indeed atheism exactly equals sociopathy in Ray Comforts mind.

If you blame everyone else for the problems of the world, in your opinion, you and your God are the 'sane' ones.

Unless he is trying to tell us that he and ONLY he is a 'true' Christian?

Hard to see into, the mind of madness is.

Hey, if we don't all go to church on Sunday and pray and 'dis' science we must be murderous sociopaths right?

One only needs to wonder at the charactistics of a banana to see this.

(I think I broke my brain.)

Asylum Seeker said...

That's an excellent phrasing, Brian. It's a good thing for the killer that he framed the argument around "why shouldn't I kill you specifically this very instant in a scenario where I am able to evade capture" rather than the more poignant "why should I ruin my life by becoming a serial killer?".

"How he acts towards other people is entirely to do with is upbringing, his environment."

In fairness, there is a biological component. For instance, people with antisocial personality disorder, which often facilitates criminal behavior in those that have it, have decreased empathic responses and a marked deficiency in frontal lobe activity (in regions that have to do with impulse control). That said, most people with the disorder are just a little bully-ish or habitual petty criminals, not cold-blooded killers. They need a hell of a lot of other factors tossed in there in order for that to even have a chance of being true.

Side note: I happen to actually be a rocket surgeon. It's really not as hard as people make it sound.

"I wonder what Comfort was trying to say by including this video."

Knowing Comfort, something incoherent and counter-factual.

"Is Comfort trying to say that all atheists break everything down to the cellular level and therefore are ALL capable of being serial killers??"

I think the gist here is that, unless you believe that there are ghosts in the machine, there is nothing stopping you from going on killing sprees. Same old, same old, it's just that they aren't explicitly invoking God in this one.

"Hey, if we don't all go to church on Sunday and pray and 'dis' science we must be murderous sociopaths right?"

I know I am.

pboyfloyd said...

I'm not happy with the gene theory that makes bullies and petty criminals out of people. If the same kids grew up in wealthy families they might be radical theists or politicians or businessmen.

Where we see simply bullying in the uneducated we see leadership qualities in the less uneducated.

I guess they've learned to control who to bully and in what situation it is deemed 'a good thing'.

"Every private soldier has a general's baton in his pack." (Napoleon misquote)

pboyfloyd said...

"For instance, people with antisocial personality disorder, which often facilitates criminal behavior.."

I think that kids like this are likely to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and such. Not so much a genetic predispositon than a pre-natal chronic 'not-quite-properly-developed' syndrome.

Saying it's genetic is like saying that poor folk are inclined to have cretins for children, or their children are genetically inclined to not wear shoes.

Of course we can fix the lack of footwear easily enough but we can't fix the damage caused by growing cells being bathed in alcohol.

Asylum Seeker said...

"If the same kids grew up in wealthy families they might be radical theists or politicians or businessmen."

Ba-zing. Yes, that's true. Environment does help dictate the manner in which you express whatever natural tendencies you happen to have (and it also can reinforce or teach against acting upon those tendencies as well).

And, eek...Fetal Alcohol syndrome would probably be more common, that's true. It's a shame that any reason why people with that particular problem would commit crimes seems to be due to brain damage up to the point of mental retardation, though. Fortunately, once again, this really shouldn't predispose towards certain actions . It's funny that we can call bullshit on this thing from so many different angles...

Mandar Malum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mandar Malum said...

This was an interesting video to say the least... I disagree with the message that is trying to be conveyed (which seems to be the general consensus here) I did find it interesting none the less...

I really don't have much to add that everyone else hasn't stated already..

Brad said...

Comfort is a pathetic goon. On other notes,

1) Whether or not murder is "worth" the time of the killer is a wholly subjective matter outside of the concrete facts about how he could do so, so trying to rebut the sociopath on that point is an exercise in futility. Second, within the context of that specific scenario, it might be less risky for the sociopath at that point in time to finish his business, as letting the biologist back into the population could have disastrous repercussions not good for the killer.

2) Whether or not the killer actually believes his dispositions are genetically determined is left ambiguous in the video. The killer obviously just derives some comedic thrill from reversing the situation on an intellectual whose line of work is to abstractly grasp the killer's persona. Saying that genes don't have morals is just another way for the killer to play with the biologist's psyche.

3) You say society =/= statistical averages because society changes, but so do norms and mores! They essentially mean the same thing here. And why would actions that destroy society at large be 'wrong'? Isn't that only true under an arbitrarily collectivist system? Why should the individual look out for society? It won't necessarily help the individual in particular making the decision! It's all subjective in the end!

4) Once again, the killer's true thoughts on genetic determinism are unclear. What he's doing is presenting an intellectual with an ultimatum: turn against his own hypothesis and discover a valid justification of morality, or get tortured!

My conclusion is that the murderer is damn brilliant.

P.S. Fancy seeing you here pboyfloyd! I actually got here through an unrelated sequence of blogs / blogrolls... weird.

Asylum Seeker said...

Small blogosphere, I assume.

Now I have to undergo the tiresome task of re-reading what I have written (again) in order to see where these objections are coming from.

1. Yes, the time-wasting element is subjective, especially if there are no negative side-effects to the killing (or costs), or if the person sees a net benefit in doing the killing (which would also be subjective). And, considering that, in that specific situation, he had already done all the hard work, there is very little reason to not finish the job, since he, individually, in that specific scenario, is (supposedly) cushioned from the normal downsides one would run into if you killed someone.

2. Ahh, an argument for argument's sake. I suppose that is possible. Sadly, the video wasn't long enough to say for sure either way, but I did assume that he actually held the position without having a good reason for doing so. It's funny, because I quite recently became peeved due to a movie review that made that same assumption....

3. Now that I look at it again, I assume that society does actually qualify as a "statistical average" that can vary within a broader confines of a greater "statistical average". I assume that I was thrown by how bizarre that statement sounds, though.Mostly because I see some form of "society" (in an incredibly loose sense of the word) as necessary for the survival of the individual. Unless you are completely self-sufficient, anything that someone does that undermines social cohesion is essentially shooting themselves in the foot.
4. Granted, once again, that he could be putting forth arguments he doesn't really believe in just to be contrary. The professor's hypothesis was a little steep, and he probably should have abandoned it, or softened it. But, I doubt that even then he could have come up with a moral argument sufficient to make the killer decline from killing when in such an advantageous position (supposedly).

Still wouldn't say he was brilliant though. Perhaps if he was the one being threatened with death throughout and presenting arguments, I might have been more inclined to say otherwise. But, he was "arguing" with a man who spent half of his time snivelling and begging for his life. He gave himself too much of an advantage.