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Friday, October 21, 2005

The Gnu keeping it real on the web.

Dr. Steven Cowan, fellow Mississipian, was kind enough to reply to my objections to the Craig Kalam Argument's denial of an actual infinite in time. (It's my fondness for Leibniz, I promise.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Syracuse Comic Book Expo: Remarks

Your beloved Gnu was at our first really successful comic book convention in Syracuse NY. Syracuse has been trying to have such a gathering for a long time but this one finally pulled it off. Our town has become a real center for comic book and game hobbies especiall for upstate NY. A new store opened up just in time to participate in the weekends festivities. This convention was held in the newly restored local landmark, the Palace.

I proved to be a real comic addict and wound up staying until the closing of the tables. Unfortunately, I talked my friend into coming with me and it turned out to be a real waste of time and money for him. The fee was ten bucks which is not to terrible for a convention except that your basicly paying for the priviledge of spending more money. (Oh the money I spent!) But it was my birthday week so there's your rationale, right?

The best thing about the con was just being a trip down memory lane. I was more interested in recovering issues from past days about comic storylines that I really cared about at the time. I found some cheap old Marvel Amazing Adventures, featuring Killraven, a kind futuristic Sparticus who seeks to free human kind from the evil tyranny of the Martians. There was a run in recent history trying to ressurect the Kilraven line but seemed toi me to fail to get the vibe right. I also picked up Starlin's "Dreadstar and Company" run from the newbie Epic comics, even though I've already read that years ago. Also some "Howard the Duck" from Steve "born out of time comics-wise" Gerber. And also some Mike Baron titles; "Magnus", "Nexus", and the Badger story line where we finally meet "Larry".

I also got my money's worth in celebrity conversations. I got to speak with Scott Beatty ("Nightwing Year One") which was interesting since I manged to fit Kurt Busiek into the conversation. But the highlight was certainly getting to shake the hand of Russell Streiner and meet John Russo who both have producer and screenwriter credit for Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". Mr. Streiner also played "Johnny" the first casuality of the zombie attack at the begining of the movie but who still manages to return to take his girlfriend out for dinner. Finally, I met a guy who claimed that he knew Mike Baron before he began to write comics. he told me that one day they were both in an office together and Mike said, "The comics they put out these days are crap. They should put out something that is more intelligent." And the guy said, "If that's what you think, then you should go out there and write your own comics". And Mike said, "Alright, I will!". I shook the guy's hand. Just in case he was telling the truth, we owe him a huge debt.

I also spoke with the wife of the individual who arranged the whole thing. They were not a local shop owner, just a couple with a huge stack of comic books in their garage that her husband faithfully collected over the years and who do most of their comic trade on-line. Thank you for your support of the hobby in Syracuse.

Finally, I got to talk with the owner and operator of the local SRS (formerly Sub Rosa) productions, a local film company that does trade in the distribution of tons of B-movie hack and slash films but also makes some of his own original movies through the company right here in town. A lot of this work is not necessarily of any redeeming value, some of it was straight up porn, but I was interested in local enterprises and he cast a very useful perspective on the scene. I picked up a disc for one of his original pictures that he filmed here and told me was aimed at a higher standard of entertainment than some of his other works.

Except for the new store, every shop with which I was already aquainted with had a stand at the con, and also just some people dealing outr of their garage. There were suprisingly few costumes. I wore my "Dr. Doom" tie. I also picked up some very cheap copies of Gary Gygax material.

Was it fun? Well, it was nostalgic, enticing, and distracting, but not necessarily the full joi de vie. It was a lot of beat up old guys like me with fond ten-year old memories we rarely take out and l;ook at. I think it was more the male fellowship over our geekyness that was working for me.

The role of personal commitments in moral dilemmas

I was explaining my cirriculum to my good friend and supervisor and was suprised by his apparently alarmed reaction. In turns he was wondering out loud whether I was advocating something like relativism, dogmatizing my students, or not teaching only possibilities without subtlty. I was suprised at his reaction which forced me to want to say more clearly what I wanted to say. He must of thought I turned into Richard Rorty. I was at a loss to know why he had such a bad take on my presentation.

Here goes. There are cases where we seem to confront situations where our moral convictions come into conflict forcing us to reflect more deeply on our moral reasoning and beliefs. One direction that often proves helpful when there does not appear to be a false dilemma or a lack of information relevent to the case is to examine and clarify our moral concepts. It is helpful here to have an understanding of various moral theories -- utilitarianism, deontology, justics as fairness, virtue ethics -- in order to understands better the moral terms and their possible exsception cases.

Now suppose that even after doing all that you still have conflicts remaining. This is probably because the competing alternatives represent incommensurable goods that cannot be both satisfied under the conditions of the choice being made. In such a case the choice is going to come down to us or even me and what we or I think is personally important. This presupposes that we or I have a set of personal commitments -- to self, certain others, certain communities, or ideals, or religious commentments -- that guide me in my choices. But then here is an argument, in order to be fully equiped to deal with situation of moral dilemmas, we ought to have some personal commitments, some vision of the good life.

Of course, this argument assumes that such cases are possible in the first place but it seems to me that one might be impressed about how common such cases really are even though most cases can be handled without resorting to personal commitments just by appealing to whatever other moral framework is most appropriate. Consider the following textbook case:

An engineer is invited to work with a company that is developing groundbreaking surface to ground automated tracking. It is a great opportunity for the engineer to be on the ground floor of cutting edge research, not to mention the extra money will make it more easy to meet his financial obligations. However, the technology is being developed for a missle guidance system. What should the engineer do? It is not clear that other moral theories will be of enough help to him once one goes into the details.

If the engineer is a pacifist, he certainly will refuse the option. But if the engineer is a "political realist" who favors developing the best national defence, he may be inclined to accept the offer. But neither decision seems to be right while the other is wrong. The realist cannot complain that the pacifist is morally warped for desiring a world without war and advocating universal disarmament, nor can the pacifist complain that realist is wrong to want the means of self-defense from possible attacks from others. They both express morally approbationary views. But one is going to have to decide based on their own beliefs and values.

Both options respect the libertarian rights and actual liberty duties of society. Both views have a pro-attitude to respect for their obligations to society whether properly moral, legal, or contractual. Both have varios virtues characteristicly related to them. But they both cannot be co-realized.

Such personal commitments are not mere desires but intelligible and sustained choices. They are not mere private sentiment but serve as a basis for the formation of communities or at least parties. And they both express good will and appeal to objective goods. So my view is not saying that all personal commitments are acceptible, only those that exhibit certain good making features: they have to be rational preferences that express a systematicly ordered set of values that are consistent with basic duties, rights, and fairness to others and with respect for keeping promises, etc.

Such a personal commitment is necessary in order for moral people to act as autonomous rational agents in cases of moral indecision where common frameworks prove insufficient. Rather than ceasing to be moral because it goes out of bounds of the legitmate demands of society on us, not only does it motivate action in accord with those moral demands (because ex hypothesi all availble options are consistent with keeping such demands) but it assures that such demands will be met no matter what. Consequently, we have a moral imperitive to stand for something.

This view is not relativistic but admits the possibility of an objective plurality of goods that cannot all be realized. One way to say it is that there is more than one legitmate version of a good life and we have to decide which one is most appropriate for us. Nor then does tis view advocate dogmatic absolutism, the claim that there is one and only one way of living or doing well.

Finally I am not doing anything more than stating the view. Perhaps there is good reason not to expect exception cases for the sake of holding a good theory or perhaps the idea of incomensurable goods is somehow incoherent. But by making such a view available to my students, it seems to me that I am fulfilling a public trust not just by informing my students of all the possibilities but also going the extra step to make sure my students are exposed to all the resources available to them to make sure they have all they need to make good moral decisions in real life.