Why Polls are a Danger to Democracy

poll

Does this poll reflect the true preferences of the Dutch population?

It is 13 March 2017, and the intermediate polls of the Dutch election suggest that it is going to be a close call between the Dutch Liberal Party (VVD) and the populist Party for Freedom (PVV). Who is going to be the biggest party of the Netherlands? Both parties are currently leading in the polls, and the winner will lead the formation of a new government, and most likely provide the new prime minister. So the stakes are high.

Now suppose you don’t agree with the VVD. You prefer a more progressive party (such as GroenLinks or D66). However, one thing is for sure: you don’t want Geert Wilders (PVV) to win, let alone become the prime minister. What do you do, knowing that it is going to be a close call between the VVD and the PVV? Do you vote for the party that truly reflects your preferences (GroenLinks or D66 in this example), or do you vote for the Dutch Liberal Party, knowing that you prefer the Liberals to the Populists?

The last option (to vote ‘strategically’, or not on your most preferred candidate) is handed to you only because of the information you derived from the intermediate polls. It is only because you know what the result of the election will be – given that people will vote as indicated in the poll – that you can adjust your vote to it.

But this raises a question: do we want people to have the opportunity to vote strategically? Or differently: should we allow for intermediate polls?

Democracy as a reflection of voters true preferences

This basically comes down to another question: what do we want the election results to be a reflection of? Do we want the results to be a reflection of the true preferences of the members of a population (meaning: if 20% of the people most prefer the VVD, then the VVD will get 20% of the votes, etc)? Or do we want the results to be a reflection of both true preferences and insincere preferences (i.e., 30% of the people vote for the VVD, even though only 20% has the VVD as their preferred option, with the other 10% preferring the VVD to the PVV).

I think no reasonable person would say that we hold elections to elicit insincere preferences. After all: what is the point of a democratic election in case we want to end up with election results that don’t reflect the population’s true preferences? This might even contradict the notion of democracy itself. So we want to elicit the true preferences of voters through an election.

However, by publishing intermediate polls, we entice people to cast votes that don’t reflect their true preferences (i.e., voting for the most preferred candidate), as shown by the example above. Hence the election result will not be an accurate representation of people’s preferences, hence not an optimal form of democracy.

Bandwagon effect

But there is another argument to be made against polls: the bandwagon effect. The bandwagon effect implies that the rate of uptake of beliefs increase with the number of people already holding the belief. In practice this means that people, seeing a poll in which party x has more seats than party y, become more inclined to vote for party x than y, ceterus paribus. The result is that x gets more votes than it would have gotten in case the polls wouldn’t have been published, and another party – possibly y – less. Still: we end up a with election results that are different from what they would have been in case we didn’t publish the polls.

But you can also approach the issue from another angle by simply asking: what is the added value of polls? What do polls contribute to society? ‘Information,’ one could say: ‘information about the voting behaviour of the population.’ But what can we use this information for? We cannot use it to change the voting behaviour of others. So for that purpose it’s useless. It can only be used to change one’s own voting behaviour.

Banning polls

So it seems that the only contribution of polling is that it allows for changing your vote in light of the voting behaviour of others? Well, we have just established that this is not a good thing in a democracy. Therefore polling has no added value to society.

Assuming that all of the above is true, why then allow polls? Banning polls is not some far-fetched idea. It already happens in many countries, including France (on the day before the election) and Italy (15 days before the election).

And given the negative effect of polling on the democratic process, this might not be such a bad idea.

Why Voting on Trump Now is Especially Bad

Today another terrorist attack hit a major city in Europe. After Paris, today Brussels was hit. Naturally people are scared, and want to feel safe. Hence it seems attractive to support a political party which implements policies that at first sight seem to increase one’s safety. Think about people such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, or Donald Trump in the USA.

Geert Wilders for example wants to close its country’s borders, and stop emigration from Muslim countries. Wilders’ policies are part of a much broader agenda; an agenda that is characterized by a core of anti-Islam. He condemns pretty much anything that has to do with the Islamic ideology. Donald Trump might be even worse: he wants to ban any Muslim from emigrating to the USA.

Although such measures might appear to improve the safety of the average citizen, one can legitimately doubt whether such policies will make our lives safer, instead of less safe.

For suppose more people vote on Wilders or Trump. Then Wilders/Trump will implement more anti-Muslim policies, which not only creates a more apparent difference between Muslims and not-Muslims, but might also make Muslims feel more oppressed in their own country, which in turn could cause resistance. They might start thinking: ‘If you guys won’t accept us and our ideas, then we might have to force you to respect us another way’. Or: ‘Given that you don’t respect us, we see little reason to respect you’. This feeling might not directly cause terrorism, but it could lead to an increased sense of suppression within the country’s Muslim community, which might stimulate the occurrence of a breeding ground for (violent) resistance.

But even without political anti-Muslim measures being implemented, increased support for anti-Muslim politicians might in itself make Muslims feel like they are not accepted, not even in their own country, thereby creating resistance. After all: how would you feel to live in a country (such as the Netherlands) in which 1 in every 3 people on the street votes for a party whose main message it is to suppress your kind of people. I can imagine that you won’t feel much compassion for your fellow citizens.

Especially in this time, when the tensions between Muslims and not-Muslims seems relatively large, voting for people who increase this tension even further might be particularly problematic.

What do you think?

Why Do So Many People Want To Be in a Relationship?

Why Do People Want To Be in a Relationship?

Why Do People Want To Be in Relationships?

Sharing your life with someone else. Always being together: if not in person, then at least in mind. Sharing in the other person’s pain (but also in their happiness of course). Always having an obligation to someone. Not being fully free.

These are merely some of the consequences of being in a relationship. I wonder: what draws so many people into a relationship? Why do so many people appear to have the urge to always have that other special person in their lives?

Is it is to share your feelings and ideas with someone who truly cares about you? Who doesn’t judge you, who wishes the best for you and tries to help you? That might be true, but it seems like you don’t have to be in a relationship to have such experiences. You might just as well talk to friends – who by definition care about you, want the best for you and try to help you – and achieve pretty much the same results.

Is it for sex then? To have sexual intercourse with someone regularly without having to go through the seduction process over and over again? Maybe, but again: you don’t need to be in a relationship for that. You can have sex with pretty much anyone who wants to have sex with you; also with the same person, so that you don’t have to go through the seduction process over and over again. ‘But’, someone might object, ‘sex with someone you’re not in a relationship with is less intimate in some way, than sex with your girlfriend/boyfriend.’ But is it really? Because why would the fact that you are in relationship with someone, which appears to be nothing but a social construct, add to the intimacy of sex? It might be that being in love with each other does, but then again: you don’t need to be in a relationship to have that experience.

So why then, if not for companionship or sex?

Maybe it is to boost our own perception of ourselves. Maybe it is the idea that we mean so much to someone that that person is willing to give up a large part of their lives, time and bodies for us. And the prettier, smarter, kinder that other person is, the more special it is that that person chooses you. And it might just be that feeling of possession that we, insecure humans, crave for, and why we value being in a relationship with someone.

Or maybe it is because it is just the normal thing to do, according to the unwritten rules of society. But one could question whether this is ever a good reason to do anything.

The best reason I can think of is when you plan on having, or actually have, children with someone. For in case you have children with someone, it might only be fair towards that person to devote all your resources to him/her and your children – if only because it might be best for your children, which from an evolutionary perspective seems an important consideration in one’s actions. However, I doubt many teenagers, or people in their twenties, consciously decide to get into a relationship with someone for this reason.

None of this is of course a problem; not if both parties agree to the relationship. But it might shed light on the not-so-conscious reasons that drive people into a relationship.

Why ISIS Is Ignorant, But Not Wrong

It is clear that we in the West do not agree with ISIS. We think that what they think is wrong, and more importantly: we think that what they do is wrong. They decapitate Western journalists, promote violence against people who don’t agree with their religious beliefs, organize terrorist attacks, and even destroy Iraq’s cultural heritage – statues that were over 5000 years old. How can they do this? Why do they do this? Is it due to their set of (religious) beliefs? And if so, can we then judge them for doing what they think is the right thing to do?

First a rather obvious observation: people from different cultures or societies have different ideas about what is right or wrong. This view is called descriptive moral relativism, and it’s a moderate, empirical claim, that is corroborated by reality. Look only at the people of ISIS, who think that what they do is spreading the true message of Allah, and who think that anyone who disobeys this message is wrong. They believe that they should stick to a very strict interpretation of the Islam, and that people who don’t do this, should be done away with. If not by words, then through force. We in the West clearly find their ideas about what is right and wrong absurd. Hence ISIS and us, clearly, disagree about what we find right and wrong.

We could go one step further than this claim, and say that ISIS and us don’t merely have different ideas about what is right and wrong, but that neither of us is more right or wrong than the other in having these ideas. There are many cultures and equally many ideas about what is right and wrong, but there simply is no absolute, culture independent interpretation of right and wrong.

And there is something to say for this so called meta moral relativism. After all, acts can hardly be judged wrong in any absolute sense; that is, without regarding the relevant context. Killing a person might seem wrong, but if you can save one hundred people by doing so, it might actually be a sin if you wouldn’t do it. So the context appears to matter for deciding whether an action is right or wrong. So it could in principle be possible that a culture’s or society’s set of beliefs, taken as the relevant context, genuinely determines whether an action is good or bad. Applied to the ISIS case: it is not only that they have the idea that destroying Iraq’s cultural heritage is right, but given their set of beliefs, it truly is the right thing to do. An equivalent way to say this is that what is right or wrong is determined by nothing but the idea of what is right and wrong. Hence, given that ISIS thinks that what they are doing is right, which I assume they do, their deeds are truly right – for them at least.

Let’s for the sake of argument assume that this meta moral relativism is a correct description of reality: that there truly is a plurality of interpretations of right and wrong floating around, none better or worse than the others. Then, applied to the ISIS case, we have to face a difficult question. Because if ISIS truly thinks to do what is right, how then can we judge them? Okay: we might have a different interpretation of what is right than they do, but we have just established that having a different interpretation doesn’t make their views wrong regardless of the context. Our conception of morality is just different from ISIS’s: different, but not superior.

And, playing the devil’s advocate, don’t we (the West) do exactly the same? It might not be the message of Allah that we try to spread throughout the world, but the message of liberalism and freedom. And we too are willing to go to great lengths to spread this message. History shows that countless of people have been killed because their actions didn’t cohere with our ‘right’ notions of freedom and liberalism – the Nazi’s being just one example.

So it appears that we cannot declare ISIS’s ideas and actions to be more wrong than ours – not while strictly assuming meta moral relativism. That’s a pity.

But there might be a way out. A way in which we can judge ISIS’s beliefs and actions to be wrong, without falling into the pitfalls of meta moral relativism. Because even though we might not be able to say that ISIS’s ideas and actions are absolutely wrong, we can say that ISIS is ignorant. We can say that they have not tried to actively refute their basic set of principles – the principles, derived from the Islam, that make their actions right. For if they would have done so, which I am quite sure they have not (because Allah’s words seem the most basic principles guiding their thinking, and even doubting these principles is wrong), it seems hard to imagine that they would have still accepted such principles.

So we can say that ISIS is ignorant, which in itself could be found immoral. But let’s not go there…

What do you think?

Come On People: Let’s Cut the Crap!

This is a plea against humanity and its deeply ingrained narrow-mindedness.

For as long as we can remember it has been the same old story: people have different beliefs –> people believe that only their beliefs are true –> people feel endangered by other people’s beliefs –> people find it okay to attack those who have different beliefs. This is the ever repeating cycle of human ignorance: a cycle we – apparently – cannot escape. Just when we think we’ve figured it all out, just when we believe peace is within reach, a new group of people takes over control and yells: ‘Listen guys: this is what we’re going to do.’ This is how far we have come as a species, and it pretty much seems like we have reached the limits of our capabilities: we simply cannot do better than this.

Instead of focusing ourselves on the real issues we earthlings could be dealing with, we are too busy feeling insecure and in need of protecting ourselves against other insecure and vulnerable people. While we could be treating each other as part of the same big earthly family, which could help us in protecting ourselves against the vast and unknown universe out there, our perspectives are so limited that we cannot even come to peace with the only ‘intelligent’ creatures we know: ourselves.

When will the time arrive that we will come to comprehend our ignorance and, which is one step further, accept it? Because only by accepting our ignorance will we be able to move on. Only by admitting that we are all the same in our journey through the absurd situation we call ‘life’, can we can shed of our cloaks of pretentiousness and appropriated authority, and come to treat the earth as our own little cosmic garden.

On a cosmic scale, we are nothing more than a group of particle-sized monkeys, fighting each other over whose banana tastes better. And although none of us has any idea of what ‘the best’ banana would taste like, we keep on acting as if we do. I am not going to beg you to throw away your banana, or to acknowledge that ‘taste is just in the tongue of the taster,’ but it would be so much better for all of us if we could just cut the crap and start making some progress. Let’s go people.

Should State Media Stop Sharing Jihadi Propaganda-messages?

On the 23th of September 2014, the Dutch state television broadcasted a video-message of a jihadist in Syria. In this message he calls for his ‘Dutch brothers’ to support him in the war Islamic State fights against – among others – the United States. ‘If you cannot support us by coming to Syria,’ he says, ‘then at least do a severe deed in the Netherlands or Belgium.’

The full message takes 2 minutes and 43 seconds. The Dutch state television’s news-program – which is the most viewed TV-program in the Netherlands – broadcasted around 20 seconds of the message. So there he was: the jihadist in Syria, asking for Dutch people to support IS, and 1 in 8 Dutch people listened to his message. This raises the question: should the state television broadcast such a message? Doesn’t it, by giving a platform to these people, indirectly support these people? And if so, isn’t that weird, given that – at the same time – the Dutch military is fighting these same people in Iraq and Syria? Let’s take a look at these questions.

One could say that the state television shouldn’t do such a thing, because – by doing so – it gives a stage to a group of people that the state opposes. If a government is sending jets to fight a group of people in Syria, then this same government should not allow this same group of people to share its propaganda via the state’s own media. Furthermore, showing such messages – which are often violent in nature – might cause ‘the enemy’ to apply such violent measures again. After all: it worked the first time – in the sense that international media gave them free publicity. So why don’t do it again? This leads to the question: should the government want to support such violence? The obvious answer is: no.

Also, one could say, broadcasting such propaganda might cause messages most of us find wrong to be spread. The reason that a book like Mein Kampf is prohibited from being sold (in the Netherlands at least), is especially for this reason: because these ideas should – according to most of us – be banned from society. And so – one could say – it should be with jihadi messages. Therefore it is wrong for the state television to actively spread these messages.

So it seems clear, right? The state television should not broadcast such messages. But it might not be as clear-cut as it seems. For one could say that every person can think for himself, and that the government – or any news-agency for that matter – does not have to decide what is good or bad for us to hear. We can very well decide this for ourselves, after having heard the message. We are reasonable people, and seeing such a jihadi video-message does not compel us to support the messenger. And even it would compel us, what gives? Aren’t we free to decide who we want to support and who not?

Also, even though the content of the message might be ‘wrong’, it might still be newsworthy, and should therefore be distributed by the media. After all: people might find it interesting to know what is going on in the world around them, and seeing such a message provides them with a better informed perspective on the world. This cannot be wrong, can it?

I find this a difficult matter. What do you think?

Violence against Public Servants: Should It be Punished Harder?

ambulance

Should ambulance personnel receive extra protection from the state?

Ambulance personnel, police officers and firemen: people that, day in and day out, prevent our society from turning into a complete chaos. They support us so that we can live our lives without having to worry about our human rights being infringed upon. But what if these servants themselves become infringed upon their basic human rights? What if they are violated, both mentally and physically? There are governments, including the Dutch one, that have made explicit their intention to punish violence against public servants harder than violence against ‘regular’ (non-public servant) citizens. But, is this decision justified? And, more importantly, why would that be so?

Let’s think about it. You could claim that abusing a public servant is more severe than abusing a regular citizen because, by abusing a public servant, the perpetrator not only violates the rights of the servant but also the rights of the other members of society who are entitled to the services of the servant. After all, attacking the staff of an ambulance not only harms the ambulance workers, but indirectly also the patient that is (supposed to be) treated by these men and women. The same goes for police officers: abusing these men and women not only harms them, but also the citizens waiting to be helped by the police officers. Thus the physical or mental abuse of a public servant not only hurts the servants themselves, but also the citizens who are supposed to be served by the servants. And therefore, you could say, should the abuse of a public servant be punished harder than the abuse of a regular citizen.

Also, by abusing a public servant you are infringing upon what might be the controlling or correcting power of the state, which might be a violation in itself. That is, public servants are appointed to guard the laws we have set as a society, including the law condemning violence against other persons. Therefore, by abusing a pubic servant, you are not only attacking a member of our society, but you also resist the authority (ambulance personnel, police etc.) a (democratic) society has decided should safeguard our rights. Hence, abusing public servants is more wrong than abusing a regular citizen, and thus should be punished harder.

One the other hand, a public servant is just as much human as a regular citizen. Therefore, you could say, should the abuse of a public servant be punished equally hard as the abuse of a regular citizen. There is no reason why the live of a public servant would be worth more than the life of a regular citizen, right? Just because he or she fulfils a certain position within our society? Isn’t someone’s profession totally irrelevant when it comes down to our most fundamental rights, including the right not the abused by others? If that would indeed be the case, then there would be no justification for punishing the abuse of a public servant any differently from the abuse of a regular citizen.

Also, you could say, the abuse of a public servant is in no way a more severe violation against the state and its controlling power than is the abuse of a regular citizen. That is to say that the violation of another person’s well-being is just as much a violation of a fundamental right as would be the violation of the state’s controlling power, and thus should be punished equally hard. After all: the state’s integrity is no more important than any citizen’s integrity. Hence, attacking the former should be punished equally as attacking the latter.

Personally, I believe that both positions are well defensible. However, I consider the first position to be more reasonable. By taking away another person’s right to be saved or defended by a public servant, more parties seem to be hurt in abusing a public servant than in the abuse of what is ‘only’ a regular citizen. And surely, it might not only be a servants’ duty to assist other people when they are in need; you and I might be just as capable in doing that. This might cast doubt on the idea of granting them an extra form of protection. But that doesn’t change the fact that a public servant is explicitly appointed to fulfil this duty within our society; and that might have to be taken into account.

But what do you think?

Just like Sexual Assault, Bullying should be Illegal

Bullying can lead to severe negative consequencesResearch shows that the majority of the Dutch want bullying to be punishable; that is, they want bullying to be illegal, so that bullies risk prosecution. And that seems reasonable – to a certain extent at least. Bullying is after all terrible. Besides the fact that those who are bullied experience a terrible time, the consequences of bullying can continue until many years after the bullying took place. Amanda Todd‘s case shows what bullying might cause people to do. But also the documentary ‘Bully‘, which follows a boy who – while causing harm to absolutely no-one – gets bullied, shows the evil world of bullying.

But in case you want to make bullying illegal, you should answer a couple of difficult questions. For instance: where is the boundary between bullying and teasing? If I would say that someone’s backpack is ‘super gay’, would I then be bullying? And if so, who decides that? The person who gets bullied, or someone else? The person who gets bullied is likely to say that he experiences my remark as an act of bullying. Hence, if we would listen to him, I would be a bully. But I could say that I don’t find it an act of bullying; it was merely teasing. And certainly, if we would listen to my plea, I am not a bully anymore. In other words: who decides whether or not something is bullying? This question requires an answer, for otherwise we would get stuck in useless yes-no-discussions.

After settling on this question, we encounter a next problem. For while some cases of bullying are obvious, others are not. For instance: what if the person who gets ‘bullied’ is just extremely annoying? If I look at my time at high school, then – I believe – I have not bullied anyone. But there was a guy who everyone disliked. Why? Not because we wanted to bully him. Just because he was always unkind to everyone else. And well, if someone is unkind to anyone, then anyone is unkind to that person. And then suddenly it seems like he gets bullied.

But even though it might be difficult to decide what is bullying and what is not, I still believe we should make bullying punishable. For if you look at the consequences of bullying, then you’ll see that these are, sometimes, just as severe as for instance the consequences of sexual assault: victims get insecure, lose all faith in the other people, and get isolated. Sexual assault is illegal, so why not bullying? We managed quite well to decide what is sexual assault, and what is not. It might not always have been very clear, but we managed to do so. And that’s ten times better than just leaving the perpetrators unpunished, right?

So it is possible. Therefore it might be worthwhile to make the effort to make bullying legal; even though it might not be easy.

But what do you think?

Read Teaching Anti-Bully Classes at School for another view on attacking bullying.

Sex Ever More Present in Pop Music: Problematic or Not?

The prevalence of 'sex' in pop music

The word ‘sex’ is ever more present in pop music

Look at the video clip of Miley Cyrus’s song Wrecking Ball. Now tell me: what do you think? Probably something along the lines of: why is she naked pretty much all time?

But even though Cyrus’s clip might be shocking, it seems like we have hit a new peak in the emphasis on sex in pop-music. The peak is called Anaconda and its singer Nicki Minaj.

The facts
It is not only your grandpa or grandma who say that today’s music is all about sex. There are data to back up this claim. Psychology professor Dawn R. Hobbs shows in Evolutionary Psychology (a scientific magazine) that approximately 92 percent (!) of the songs that made it into the Billboard Top 10 in 2009 contained ‘reproductive’ messages, with ‘reproductive’ obviously being synonymous with ‘sex’. In other words: 92 percent of the pop-songs that became a ‘hit’, were at least partially about sex. But even though this research shows that today’s popular music is very much about sex, it doesn’t show that today’s pop-music is more about sex than music in ‘the good old days’.

But different research, by the LA Times, shows that the pop-songs of today are more about sex than ever before. The research shows that ever since the beginning of the 1990s, the word ‘sex’ starts appearing more and more often in singles that make it into the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles (see picture).

Hence we can safely say that today’s pop music is very much, or at least much more than two decades ago, about sex.

Problematic?
This is not to say that this trend towards ‘sex-songs’ is a problem. Maybe it is caused by noble motives, such as liberalizing talk about sex.

But it seems that the occurrence of the word ‘sex’ in today’s pop-songs has one and one reason only: songs about sex are more popular than songs about different topics. This is shown by the facts presented above. And since the music business is – like any other business – commercial, it aims to sell as much of its goods as possible. Hence it makes sense, from the perspective of money-making businesses, to produce songs that are about sex. Hence it appears that it is not nobility, but profit-seeking that is responsible for this trend.


Nicky Minaj with Anaconda

This trend might be a problem for you if you, being a consumer of pop-music, are looking for artists that provide you with an original perspective on society; views on, let’s say, the exploitation of the working class, or an argued for position on liberalizing sex. Views that make you think. So one could say that the sex-trend deprives today’s youth of the supply of original views that are so important for them to be able to develop themselves.

But what do you think?

Why Euthanasia should be Legal in any Civilized Democracy

It recently came to my attention that euthanasia, the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to relieve suffering, is illegal in the United Kingdom. Being a Dutchman, and the Netherlands being a country in which euthanasia is legal, I was surprised to notice this. But even though I was surprised to read this, I was literally shocked to read that euthanasia is – depending on the circumstances – judged as either manslaughter or murder, and punishable by law up to life imprisonment. Just to put that into perspective: assisted suicide is illegal too, but punishable by up to ‘only’ 14 years.

Arguments
Being fully aware of the fact that euthanasia is a controversial topic, I want to make a claim in favor of legalizing euthanasia – whether this is in the UK, or in any other democracy. The first argument for this claim might sound dramatic, but I believe it hits the core of the issue. It is the following: no single individual has decided to come into this world. Our parents ‘decided’ to have a child, and there we were. From this it follows that none of us chose to live a life with perpetual (and incurable) pain, which is the life many terminally ill people live. So, having been put on this world without his consent, and not having chosen for the extreme pains he – being a terminally ill person – suffers, it would only be fair for any terminally ill person to be able to ‘opt out’ of life whenever he wants to; in a humane manner that is, thus excluding suicide.

Note that I am talking about the option of euthanasia for terminally ill people only. And this brings me to my second point, which has to do with the position of doctors. Let’s ask ourselves the question: what is the duty of doctors? Is it to cure people? If so, then terminally ill people shouldn’t be treated by a doctor in the first place, since – by definition – terminally people cannot be cured from whatever it is they are suffering from. Hence, given that terminally people are in fact being treated by doctors, there must be another reason the medical community has for treating them; I presume something in the form of ‘easing their pain’.

Now, given that we have a doctor and that he wants to ‘ease the pain’ of the terminally ill, I assume that he wants to do so in the best manner possible; that is, by using the treatment that eases the pain most, keeping in mind any future consequences the treatment might have. But what if a patient has crossed a certain ‘pain threshold’, and the doctor knows which great certainty that the patient cannot be cured from his disease? In this case it seems that not performing euthanasia would be equivalent to prolonging the patient’s suffering, without improving the chance of recovery (and recovery is, by definition, absent for terminally ill people). It is in those cases, and those cases only, that euthanasia seems to be the optimal method for easing the pain, and should therefore be applied by doctors (in case the patient wants to, of course).

NHS
It is not that the National Health Service (the ‘NHS’) hasn’t thought about these matters. On the contrary; they have a entire webpage devoted to ‘Arguments for and against euthanasia and assisted suicide’. Although I agree with none of the arguments the NHS gives against euthanasia, there is one that I find particularly wrong, and which they call the ‘alternative argument’. The alternative argument states that ‘there is no reason for a person to suffer because effective end of life treatments are available’. Hence euthanasia should be no option. One of the ‘alternatives’ the NHS puts forward is that ‘all adults have the right to refuse medical treatment, as long as they have sufficient capacity to make a decision’ (which, by the way, in practice has the same effect as euthanasia: the patient will die).

But refusing medical treatment is clearly in no way a valid alternative to euthanasia, for the aims of refusing medical treatment and the aims of euthanasia are profoundly different. While refusing medical treatment is about – clearly – the refusal of medical treatment, euthanasia is about wanting (a form of) medical treatment. Therefore, the fact that there might be another way in which the aim of the former can be accomplished is irrelevant and ineffective from the perspective of pursuing the aim of the latter. Also, the cases to which a refusal of medical treatment might apply are likely to be very different from the ones to which euthanasia is applied.

Car accident
Imagine, for example, a car accident, in which one of the victims is severely injured, and needs acute medical treatment in order not to die. This is an accident, in which no terminally ill people are involved. Refusing medical treatment seems a reasonable option; euthanasia not. Now imagine the life of a cancer patient, who is terminally ill, and who realizes that his suffering will only become worse. Euthanasia seems a reasonable option; refusing medical treatment not.

To end this post with a personal note, I would like to say that I hope that, in this 21st century we are living in, where everyone gets older and older, and prolonging life seems to be the preferred option a priori, irrespective of the specific circumstances, I hope that we can engage in a healthy discussion about a topic so relevant as euthanasia. Of course, many of us are still young and hope not to experience severe illness soon, but looking at the people we love and seeing them suffer unbearably seems to me sufficient reason for not condemning euthanasia straight away.

But what do you think?

Celebrities and Privacy: An Unlucky Combination

Don't we violate a right by intruding in Jennifer Lawrence's private life?

Don’t we violate a moral right by intruding in Jennifer Lawrence’s private life?

While surfing on the internet I ‘accidentally’ stumbled upon a picture of Jennifer Lawrence (a famous, and very pretty, actrice) having lunch with her boyfriend at a London restaurant. The photo was quite obviously taken by a paparazzo. While looking at the picture I thought to myself: why is someone allowed to take a picture of this event? The obvious answer is: because it is legal to do so. But then the next question I asked myself was: should it be legal to do so? In other words: should we be allowed to take – and publish – pictures of someone in their private life? Let’s take a look at that question.

You could say that, since celebrities are – by definition – famous, we (‘society’) have the moral right to know what they are doing. But this is nonsense. For suppose that we would have that right. Then we would be allowed to stalk celebrities each and every minute of the day to see what they are doing: no matter whether they are at home, watching TV or taking a shower. This is clearly absurd. Therefore we do not have that right.

A stronger – but still invalid – argument would be following. Celebrities choose a job that was likely to make them well-known, and they knew this before they started their ‘celebrity career’. Hence they should accept all the consequences of this decision: including being photographed by paparazzi. But is this argument valid? It might be true that celebrities should accept all consequences of their decision. After all: if they don’t, they would lead a miserable life. But that doesn’t mean that all of the consequences are morally acceptable. It might be that taking photo’s, and publishing these photo’s, of someone in a restaurant is not a morally acceptable consequence of being famous. Hence we might want to ask ourselves whether we want to force anyone, celebrity or not, to accept a consequence is immoral. If not, we might have to reconsider our privacy laws.

This is of course not to say that it is morally wrong to take pictures of any celebrity engaged in any activity. A prime minister, for example, should be allowed to be photographed while attending an international congress. But this is not because we have the right to know what the prime minister is doing in his private life. For even if we would have that right, it wouldn’t apply to this case, since the congress is clearly not a private matter.

In case of the prime minister, society has the right to know whether its representatives are doing a good job at representing them, and it is solely because of this right that it is okay to take pictures of the prime minister at the congress. But since by far not all celebrities are our legal representatives, we don’t have the moral right to take pictures of all celebrities at all times – at least not when they are engaged in private activities, such as visiting a restaurant.

But what do you think?

I Find it Offensive that You Find it Offensive

A while ago, I was watching a YouTube video of Hans Teeuwen (a Dutch comedian) having a discussion with three Muslim women. The women invited him to talk about – as they claimed – his discriminatory beliefs about Muslims. Teeuwen is a comedian who intents to provoke, make you think and attack dogma – not only the Islam. At a certain point in the interview, the women asked Teeuwen: ‘Don’t you mind offending people?’ Teeuwen responded: ‘I don’t think I’m offending anyone. Who do you think I’m offending?’ The women said: ‘Well, us for example. We are offended by your claims about Allah.’ Teeuwen said: ‘Really? Well, I’m offended that you’re offended by my claims about Allah.’ ‘I think it’s of great importance to be able to say what you want in a democratic society, without people like you trying to silence me. That’s what I find offending.’

I found this a very accurate observation. Religious groups – but other minorities as well – have a tendency to act like they’re being victimized, like they’re are being attacked just because their beliefs differ from those of the mainstream. This is a trick they’ve taught themselves, and that they use as a shield whenever they’re being ‘attacked’ by non-believers because of whatever it is they happen to believe. They crawl back into their shell of convictions and claim to be offended, thereby hoping that the ‘offending’ party will stop throwing its beliefs at them, and just leave them alone.

But what if the beliefs of the offended party are considered to be offensive by other people? What if non-Muslims find headscarves to be a sign of suppression, a sign – religious or not – that should not be tolerated in a democratic society: a society in which equality of rights is considered to be a great good. What then? Who’s right and who’s wrong? Who is the offender and who is the offended? Or are both parties occupying both roles at the same time?

This is an important question because it points to the heart of democracy. In a democracy – especially through freedom of speech – people should be able to express themselves and, as a logical consequence of that, should lend others this right as well. And since it’s impossible to say what claims are offensive in any absolute way (see the Teeuwen example) we should be tolerant towards all claims, and hope that the ones we find most reasonable will be the ones that become accepted by the majority. And, since democracy is such a widespread institution in this world of ours, it seems that the majority of people has the same set of fundamental beliefs as you and I have, one of which is freedom of speech: whether we find this offensive or not.

But what do you think?