Hirearchy of Values

Life as a human elevated above animals can be viewed as a cycle of conscious choices and consequences, judged using a system of values we hold on to. The ideal life would then be when we always make the right choices, leading to the best results we can see. But that requires perfect knowledge of our options, which we don’t have. The next best thing is then to make the best choice based on what we know at the moment, and to learn as much as we can from its consequences to guide us in the future should a similar situation arises again.

There are times when the choices are hard to make, when each option appears just as good, or just as bad as others. It helps then to have a set of guiding principles to help us decide between these tough choices.

I would thus like to humbly propose a hirearchy of values, against which a given option shall be judged against. Those that fulfills a higher principle should be preferred to those that don’t, even if the latter satisfies a lower priority value, when only one must be chosen.

The hirearchy is as follows:

  • First priority is for sustainable human life.
  • Second priority is for coherence of mind with the world.
  • Third priority is for balance, justice, and appropriateness.
  • And fourth is for happiness.

Life is first and foremost, for without life every other values are moot. Life needs to be sustainable, not just for the individual, but for the society at large, since we humans ultimately depend on each other to survive. It follows then that the environment need also be sustainable, for without so life cannot thrive.

A coherent mind is also highly important, because without it, we will not be able to make use of the rest of our values. And yet we may sacrifice it if direly needed to continue life, as the mind may arise again in future when life flourishes again to nourish it.

Coherence need to be both internal within the mind, as well as external with the world. We must be able to justify our beliefs and our principles, so that we can make decisions efficiently without being plagued by doubt and guilt. And yet we must not delude ourselves and go against the truths of the world, for that endangers the rest of our values as well.

Once life is assured and the mind is attuned to oneself and the world, then we are well equipped to take appropriate actions in the world. We are to act justly, to right wrongs, to restore balance, within the limits of our understanding and capacity.

And lastly, when things are in good balance, then we have the luxury to seek happiness, again within the constraints of appropriateness, sanity and life. But when we only care for our own happiness at the detriment of others, or for perpetuating short term pleasure in lieu of long term sustainability, then problems would eventually arise.

It is my hope then that when we are stuck with a tough decision to make, to remember these principles, and to weigh them well against each other. And when no options come to mind, there is always the everpresent default option to wait first before deciding, so that we can seek more understanding of the issue, by reaching deeper inwards into our psyche, or outwards with our senses, or towards others for help with our decision.

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antara DrMAZA & tokoh ilmuan anti DrMAZA

Saya amat keliru tentang persepsi sesetengah ilmuan Islam yg amat saya hormati terhadap DrMAZA. Mereka adalah tokoh-tokoh ulama yg bukan calang-calang orang, begitu teliti mereka dalam analisa, begitu cermat mereka dalam menghukum sesuatu perkara, dan walau saya tidak cukup arif untuk menilai kredibiliti mereka, setidak-tidaknya hujahan mereka selalunya selari dengan naluri intuitif saya.

Tetapi sebaliknya berlaku apabila datang topik DrMAZA. Ilmuan-Ilmuan ini (bukan semua ye) dengan penuh yakin menuduh beliau sebagai Wahabbi totok, sedangkan menurut siasatan saya yang pastinya tidak seberapa ini, pegangan beliau, tutur kata beliau, dan perilaku beliau jauh lebih menepati ideal Muslim Sunnah wal Jamaah daripada ciri2 Wahabbi/Salafi yg strawman mahupun steelman. Apabila saya ungkitkan ketidakkongruenan ini kepada salah seorang ilmuan tersebut, didismiss olehnya seolah-olah cuma kedangkalan penilaian saya sebagai layperson, atau sebagai diabui muslihat licik agenda Wahabbi serigala bertopeng biri-biri.

Salahkah jika saya mengambil jalan tengah di antara menghormati penilaian pakar yang tidak saya terjangkau, dengan penilaian saya sendiri berbekalkan ilmu & rasionaliti saya yang walau picisan, tapi lebih personally verifiable?

Saya lebih selesa berhusnul zhon (bersangka baik) kepada semua pihak, bahawa DrMAZA walau ada kekurangan/kepincangan beliau yang ilmuan-ilmuan ini nampak yang saya tak nampak, tetapi secara umumnya saya yakin beliau masih berusaha kearah kebaikan, masih berusaha utk membaiki diri.

Mungkin benar apa yg ilmuan itu kata, bahawa sumber rujukan DrMAZA adalah sumber Wahabbi, mungkin benar dakwaannya bahawa pendidikan DrMAZA berguru tokoh Wahabbi. Tetapi beliau sendiri mengaku dirinya mendokong Sunnah wal Jamaah, dan setiap artikel beliau yang terkini saya lihat mengambil kira hujahan ulama dari setiap mazhab Sunni, maka mungkin sahaja beliau (yang pastinya turut mempunyai kemahiran muhasabah diri yang tak kurang bandingnya dengan insan lain) telah membebaskan diri dari kongkongan pemikiran Wahabbi zaman akademiknya dengan usaha berterusan mengimbang diri dengan ilmu dan pegangan ortodoks Sunnah Wal Jamaah?

Siapalah saya untuk benar-benar membelah isi hati seseorang, untuk grok sepenuhnya niat dan halatuju akhirat beliau. Cukuplah sekadar saya menilai apa yang konkrit, tanpa perlu meneka berlebihan udang di sebalik batu, selagi tiada angin yang menggoncangkan pokok, selagi tiada ping pada bullshit detector saya.

Dan sebagai mengiktiraf pendapat ilmuan berkenaan yg anti DrMAZA, saya jadikan ini sebagai peringatan untuk saya tidak taksub kepada satu individu sahaja, untuk saya tidak rambang mata dengan karisma beliau, dan sebaliknya untuk sentiasa semak hujahan beliau sama ada selari atau tidak dengan konsensus ulama Sunnah wal Jamaah. Wallaahu a’laam….

The Three Axes of Judgment

Humans judge everything, consciously or not, even when we say we don’t. At the very least, we have the simple “Like”/”Hate”/”Don’t Care” label we instinctively attach to every entity coming into our attention. Or in matters that occupy us more, we recognize finer spectrums of preference, imbuing more passion into objects that we react stronger to:

Love

Like

Indifferent

Dislike

Hate

Is it all just a one-dimensional scale though? In searching for meaningful ways to categorize our value systems, I realized that our judgments can be analytically separated into three orthogonal realms: Technical, Aesthetics, and Moral.

Technical Judgments deal strictly with quantifiable elements, measurable and empirical. This kind of judgment is most concretely defined, able to be shared unambiguously to other people for useful comparisons with their own individual Technical Judgments. This axis is most effective in STEM fields, dealing in matters naturalistic and practical.

Aesthetical Judgment is more nebulous, relies more on our instinctive feeling towards the object of study. It is primarily driven by our subconscious mind, which itself draws upon our lifelong experiences and etched psychological patterns to react accordingly. This axis is predominant in artistic and creative endeavors, as well as the mundane preference of one even seemingly incomparable item to another (apples vs orange). Our judgment in this realm is hard to justify to others quantitatively, due to its highly subjective nature.

Moral Judgments are those that deal with ethics, morality, and societal norms. How nebulous it is depends upon one’s proficiency with ethical sciences as well as ingrained patterns of behavior. A person can be moral through strict upbringing, or through harsh trial and error, or even consciously going against personal desire in obeisance to external entities (family/society/God). The objectivity of moral judgment itself depends on whom one alludes to for morality in the first place: God for some, humanity for others, or even smaller scale societies for the relativists.

These three realms can be judged independent from each other for abstraction purposes, for when we wish to simplify the scope of our study. Indeed, some people go through their entire life just holding on to a single realm of Judgment. It is easy, and it takes not much time and effort. When we consciously include the other axes though, our judgment would become more richly informed, and when all axes are considered holistically, we make the best decision possible. Disregard any axis though, or worse, actively work against them, and we may come to regret that decision, as we belatedly account for those missing realms, through idle retrospect or forced consequences. Thus it is in our best interest to consider all three realms beforehand, time and resources permitting.

Axes of Judgment.png

The mock Venn Diagram above is my attempt to illustrate the distinctions between various combinations of Axes of Judgment. Each of the circle represent a specific Axis, an overlap means fulfillment of two or all Axes of Judgment, and exclusion means failure to satisfy the said Axis. The distance of an item away from excluded circle corresponds to dwindling consideration of that Axis. Thus an item immediately next to the circle means willful disregard of that realm of judgment, whereas items in the fringes furthest away from a circle means that circle is not even in consideration, or is left ambiguous in its judgment. (On a trivial note, even the placement of the Circles is symbolic, i.e. Moral Axis is topmost to signify uprighteousness, Aesthetics is to the left similar to how Leftist Politics values individual freedom of expressions, while Technical Axis is rightwards just like how Right-wing people prefers rigidly defined structures)

So on to the observations, starting with the simplest:
  • Good, Effective and Beautiful, as well as Bad, Ugly and Useless all clearly indicates a singular value judgment without saying anything definitive about the other two Axes.
  • When the right thing to do is also appealing, that is Common-sensical. Being Efficient means doing the work without wrongful wastage, and being Elegant means achieving technical and aesthetic excellence.
  • Repulsive things are repugnant to both eyes and heart, Inept people bungles the job pitifully, and Mookish thugs are bad at being bad.
  • Hedonistic people strive to please their senses, even those that rife with sins.
  • When getting results is foremost and morals are forsaken, then one is being Unscrupulous.
  • When the right thing is done despite one’s want, then one is Obligated.
  • When morally victorious yet the costs are serious, then it’s Pyrrhic.
  • An ugly product that works well is Functional, while a Fanciful object is uselessly ornamental.
  • A Noble Sacrifice is virtuous and admirable, yet its long-term utility is terrible.
  • A Pedantic person take great pains to check, yet is a bore and a pain in the neck.
  • Utilitarian principles maximizes pleasure for maximal people, while nixing morality for being unquantifiable.
  • A Sanctimonious person is both disliked and actually ineffectual, an Empirical judgment puts no value in either aesthetics and morality, while being Superficial disregards anything other than skin-deep facade.
  • And lastly, Perfection is achieved when the decision one makes satisfies all realms of Judgment. How can we possibly find fault with it when we have carefully considered all aspects and information available to us at the time?

In parting, in everything that we do, even if Perfection is not within reach, then lets at least aim for Efficient, Common-Sensical, or Elegant, or at the very least, a Good, Effective, or Beautiful execution 🙂 …

My 10 Commandments of the Ideal Dialog

These are the principles that I want to strive for in my discussions with people I may disagree with. Being fallible myself, I may fall short of these standards when in the throes of heightened emotions. Feel free to call me out on them when I do. You are not obligated to follow them yourselves, but it would be awesomely nice of you if you do. And this list is by no means a perfect one, feel free to critique/supplement them for improvement.

1) Dialectic, not debate: I should not go into this dialog to score ego points. Above all else, I want to learn as much as i can from them, and if they also learn something from me, yay cheers, cookies for all.

2) Be respectful, do not be combative, nor emotionally retaliate. Even if I can come up with a killer zinger myself, it would only inflame the atmosphere further, or push them away totally. Instead seek to understand the underlying motivation for the attack, and what contextual circumstances that trigger it. Address those instead.

3) Clarify definitions: Remember that we come from different backgrounds, and come into the discussion with potentially different understandings of the same terms. Use their own terms for smoother dialog if it is reasonably accurate for current purposes. If I have to use a loaded/esoteric word, clarify it first.

4) No strawmanning: They are real people just like me, do not dehumanize them, do not assume they are stupid or malicious just because we disagree on something. Seek to understand how they come to the conclusion they have currently.

4) Don’t be lazy: Take the effort to learn the other side’s arguments as thoroughly as I can, do not just skim the links they post. There is no rush for short term victory here, I have to do the hard work if I am truly interested in the pursuit of lifelong knowledge.

5) Steelman their arguments: After learning about their argument, paraphrase it back to them to get their confirmation that I have sufficiently understood their position.

6) I control my own receptivity: No matter the intellectual gap, no matter their moral intentions, there is always something more I can learn if I open my eyes and ears wide enough. If not from them, then at least from the experience itself.

7) Their time is precious: Remember that the other person has their own life to live, and other important things to worry about. Be appreciative that they can spare their time to engage with me, make the best use of it, and don’t think bad of them when they can’t give a timely answer. I am not the center of their life.

8) Don’t interrupt their speech. Let them finish what they want to say. If I want to address something urgently in their earlier statement, just note it down first and bring it up when my own turn comes. This is not a time-limited contest of wits, nor a spectacle sport for those with short attention span, but a dialog among many as parts of each other’s continuous journey of learning.

9) Dunning-Kruger: Always remember that my own knowledge is far from perfect. Be ready to admit if I am wrong, or at least that I am not as confident of my own facts and may need further studies before deciding either way.

10) Don’t rush: Even if I am right, I should not expect them to change their opinion right away. I am not a huckster wanting to close a deal on a sham snake oil before disappearing post-haste. Let them ruminate on my arguments at their own pace, let them cross-reference it with their other sources of information. Aim not to convince, only to share my perspectives. Similarly, please bear with me even if you have shattered my fallacious worldview with your undeniable truth, for I have my own emotional baggage and inertia to work through.

Never stop learning

To my fellow atheists,

Learning a lifelong process. Just as we have changed for the better in the past as we got better informed, doesn’t mean our journey of discovery has stopped then and there, that we are now at the epitome of our self-actualization.

“All religions are bunkum” is an inductively valid conclusion for an atheist to have, based on what one has learnt so far in their life. It is also just as valid for others to conclude differently, based on their own personal body of knowledge. Unless one believes that truth is relative or that reality is solipsistic, then this discrepancy of conclusions can only be resolved by everybody laying their cards on the table and we examine together at which point do our findings diverge from each other.

So all I ask is for us to also tap into the huge resources of others’ life experiences as well, many of whom are at least just as capable of making rational decisions upon all of what they have already learnt, and many of whom had put in way more effort into learning than any laypersons like us could ever achieve. Let’s stand on the shoulder of giants, let’s leverage upon the collective weight of scholarship humanity have accumulated so far. Let not the Dunning-Kruger effect blind and shackle us from learning further. Let us also not be misled by confirmation bias to pick only echo chamber supplements to our knowledge. And let’s not be drowned by the wave of polemics, instead we should ascertain the academic credentials of the source first before we accept their findings. One doesn’t go a lawyer to consult about one’s medical condition, nor would one rationally seek legal advice from a doctor. So to learn about a religion, seek the experts within that particular religion, not just the words of the layfolk, or worse, relying exclusively on the epithets of the hateful. (Not to say that one shouldn’t listen to critics, but one need to learn to differentiate between genuine criticism and polemical vitriol).

As for why should we care about religion, I’d call to mind Pascal’s Wager. However instead of using its common definition (which I’d call “The Lazy Man’s Pascal Wager”, due to its exhortation to hastily hedge our bet without any emphasis on due diligence), rather I’d like to shift the focus from “let’s immediately believe in God just in case He exists” to “let’s properly investigate religion due to its potential implications are mathematically, probabilistically life-changing, since I value my life and I value my happiness and hence any proposition to prolong both warrants a serious study”.

Which religion should one study though, among the multitudes present? I’d say that ideally we should investigate as many as we can, but unfortunately we have limited time and resources, so we have to prioritize which religion should we study first. To resolve this, I propose that you first list down what you personally believe how a proper God worthy of worship should be, what characteristics He/She/They should and should not have as the Ideal God(s). Be sure that you are drawing up the Steelman version of Godhood, not just a Strawman God. From there, you can filter out religions that fail to meet your criteria and focus on what’s left.

To summarize, learning is a lifelong process, be vigilant of one’s own ignorance and ego, be courageous in challenging one’s own existing knowledge and beliefs, and be ready to accept new truths as they come along; in this manner, I believe no God worthy of respect would fault you even if you fall short in your journey, when you have put in your best effort at seeking the truth.

Usahlah Momokkan Agamawan

Memanglah sepertimana yg Nabi ﷺ‎ kata,
mutakhir zaman kita,
agamawan palsu banyak melata,
ramai sekadar mengejar harta,
wibawa tiada ijazah semata-mata.

Namun itu bukan lesen untuk kita,
mengutuk mengeji bebas mengata,
entah berita entah cerita.

Tegurlah terus kepada si fulan,
secara peribadi dengan sopan,
kepada si empunya badan,
mudahan diterima nasihat kalian,
pabila maruahnya tidak dipertaruhkan,
bukan dicabar terang-terangan,
dipersenda di persada taulan.

Jika mahu war-warkan keburukannya,
selidikilah dahulu kebenarannya.
Jika sahih pun ceritanya,
bisakah menggugat kemaslahatan dunia?
(contohnya scammer memperalatkan agama).
Atau adakah picisan cuma,
peribadi dalaman rumahtangga,
sedangkan amanah tugasannya tetap terjaga?

Itu busybody namanya,
tepi kain nak dijaga,
itu pun kita nak bangga?

Tak perlulah pekungnya dibuka,
insha Allah di lain ketika,
aib kita takkan diseloka.

Paling saya risau,
dalam seronok kita berkicau,
timbul ujub datang mengacau,
“aaah… aku lagi baik dari kau!”

Lagi bahaya bukan kepalang,
dalam jeliknya pada sebilang,
mencebiknya kita berulang-ulang,
akhirnya mata menjadi rambang,
semua agamawan dilonggok sebalang,
dipukul rata diserkap jarang.

Keraslah hati tak lut dipahat,
pantang bersilat bila dinasihat,
lantang meluat kemurnian dilihat,
tentang fadilat disangka bermuslihat…
“alaa berlagak baik je tuu… padahal jahat!”

Butalah mata hati silau cahaya hidayah,
syok sendiri iman digoyah,
merayau dipukau nafsu serakah,
panduan diludah amaran tak diendah,
kelak terngadah menyesal tak sudah.

Lazy skepticism

As skepticism becomes fashionable, people grab onto it to elevate themselves to pooh pooh over the unthinking masses. And yet ironically due to laziness and ego, they would unknowingly fall back into the pit of gullibility that they smugly thought they’ve escaped from.

There is no easy shortcut to true expertise. You have to do all the groundwork, have to intimately know each and every painstaking detail, leaving little to unchecked assumptions. Just googling won’t cut it. A few selective books barely makes you an amateur. And yet just with those itty bits of knowledge, we already feel disproportionately smugly superior over others.

Ultimately our ego is the effective limiter of our capacity to learn more. Once we’ve decided that yep, I’ve known enough, or naah, I know more than you, then even if the evidence of our mistake is starkly in front of our eyes, we would refuse to see it, in fear of shattering our own ego.

“Have you noted the one whose god is his ego? Consequently, God sends him astray, despite his knowledge, seals his hearing and his mind, and places a veil on his eyes. Who then can guide him, after such a decision by God? Would you not take heed?”
[Quran 45:23]

An interesting study on the irony of lazy skepticism: Who will debunk the debunkers?