Casual Discussion Science Forum @scivillage

Full Version: Can Refugees (or anybody) Have Human Rights? + Is a VR affair still cheating?
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EXCERPT: The public discussion surrounding the refugee crisis has been saturated in recent weeks with allusions to Germany’s past. [...] International media shared similar historical sensibilities. [...] Up to a point, such historical allusions are not only natural, but also adequate. After all, Germany’s Asylum Law was itself constructed with a nod to past persecutions, as National Socialist politics forced millions of Europeans, Jews and others, to seek asylum overseas. Nevertheless, extensive attention to Germany’s fascist past in this context can also be misleading. To understand the political background of the refugee crisis, we must turn our gaze elsewhere; in fact, in the opposite direction. The crisis at hand confronts us with a predicament of modern political thought — modern liberalism even. It is a problem that we have successfully repressed but that now returns with a vengeance, namely the inadequacy of the lingo of human rights.

Consider this proposition: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Why do we believe in the existence of these “self-evident” truths? According to the Declaration of Independence, our inalienable human rights were given to us by our “Creator” — earlier in the text the founding fathers had appealed to the “station” given to us by “God’s Nature” — but from the perspective of modern political science this appeal to God is, of course, futile. Germany’s Basic Law refrains from turning to God as a grounding principle, but it does so in a characteristically modern way — that is by deceiving itself that simply disregarding the Almighty would be sufficient to achieving secular humanist ideals.

The truth is that we have never managed to vouch for human rights in sensible modern terms. One common strategy has been to appeal to nature rather than to God — on this view, human beings have inalienable natural rights — but in order to accept this alternative one must ascribe to nature qualities that science tells us it doesn’t have. (Blind evolution, the source of anything we might call human nature, certainly cannot be the source of normatively binding inalienable rights.)

A more promising alternative has been to follow Kant in appealing to reason instead of nature or God; that is to claim that the rights of humanity are grounded in our capacity for rational deliberation. However, in order to uphold this position one must defend a metaphysical conception of reason — an account of rationality that transcends its reduction back to blind naturalistic explanations — and while Kant himself indeed defended such a metaphysics, current political thinking prides itself for being “post-metaphysical.” John Rawls’s dominant formulation of justice is famously “political, not metaphysical,” and the eminent German philosopher Jürgen Habermas recently reaffirmed his early slogan, according to which “we have no alternative to post-metaphysical thinking.”

While it may well be true that we do not have such an alternative, it is also true, to speak with Kant, that “every theory of justice must … contain a metaphysics, and without the theory of justice there is no theory of the state.” We’re trying to make room for the refugees somewhere between Habermas’s proposition and Kant’s. Modern political thinkers can meaningfully speak of the state as an instrument for defending the interests of its citizens. When they speak of the state as defending justice, or universal human rights, they are missing the necessary concepts.

Consequently, it has been more comfortable in the present context to appeal, consciously or not, to the extra commitments generated by the German past. This evades the more general, but urgent question of the refugees’ actual political claim. Here lies a subtle but pernicious fallacy: While it is true that German history generates special commitments to human rights, the problem is precisely that we do not know how to think of these rights in political terms....

Is An Affair in Virtual Reality Still Cheating?

EXCERPT: [...] While VR sex has been explored at length, even by people using full-body haptic suits to experience full sexual immersion, the idea of digital infidelity and the confusing moral implications is largely uncharted. “It makes no difference if the cheating occurred in person or online through the use of porn, webcams, social media, or some other digital technology,” said Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S, a therapist and expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality. “A ‘virtual world’ affair is every bit as painful to a betrayed spouse as an in-the-flesh affair.” That was the typical response from the people I spoke with, but I’m not convinced of that interpretation....