A Question of Atheist Scruples – round 5

June 7, 2012

Taking the leisurely route back into blogging here with another post demonstrating that at least one atheist has a decent grasp of morality and ethics. This minion doesn’t run ripshod through the world as if rules and laws didn’t exist. God might not exist, but decency does.

Preoccupied, you leave a large restaurant without paying your $3.50 bill for breakfast. You discover this three blocks later. You aren’t pressed for time. Do you return and pay?

Of course. Last time around it was 50 cents extra change that I didn’t see a point in returning. This is different to me. I’ve likely interacted more with the waitress, said yes or no to cream and sugar, or more coffee, agreed the meal was excellent (even if it wasn’t, the price makes up for it) and would feel particularly bad ditching on the bill since it’d likely mean some of her pay would have to go towards making up for it. I know most waitresses rely heavily on their tips to get anywhere, too.

You are applying for a job that requires experience you don’t have. Do you claim that you do?

I think the ruse would soon be discovered, so probably not. Instead, I’d try to convince the potential employer that I have a transferable skill set and learn quickly. I don’t tend to apply for positions I’m not qualified for.

I’m reminded of a story out of my alma mater back in 2001, now. The University of Regina wound up with egg on its face after it was discovered that they’d hired an engineering professor who’d falsified all her documentation yet wound up teaching classes there.

The University of Regina is passing its file on “Dr.” Lana Nguyen to the Regina police service, but continues to refuse to answer questions surrounding her employment and dismissal.

The police and crown prosecutors will decide if charges will be laid against the woman who defrauded the university of hundreds of thousands of dollars. University President Dr. David Barnard confirmed early this week that Nguyen resigned Feb. 13 after an annual peer review process revealed that she does not have the credentials with which she was hired.

Since her resignation, the University of Ottawa, the University of Waterloo, and the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGS) have respectively confirmed that she does not hold the bachelor’s degree, doctorate, or professional status she claimed. Her ex-husband Hien Nguyen studied and received diplomas from the two universities, and Lana Nguyen claimed his transcripts and research as her own, allegedly explaining that “Lana” was an anglicized version of “Hien.”

That takes more balls than I have, let me tell you.

A friend has sunk into a depression and behaves in an unattractive manner. Do you distance yourself until your friend gets it together?

There’s a phrase that describes that kind of behaviour: fair-weather friend. I have a pretty poor track record when it comes to friendships as it is; I don’t need to start doing that kind of thing, too. I don’t go out of my way to maintain connections with people. Even with all the ways there are to stay in contact and updated on the lives of those I know, I still don’t bother doing the clicks required to inform me of their progress through life. And I assume they’re ignoring me to equal levels as well. It’s a character flaw, I suppose. I’ll also point out that I draw a fine line between genuine care and annoying nosiness and it often feels like too many people cross it. Me, I don’t like to pry. I prefer to assume that if it’s something I need to know, that person will tell me. Back when I was in the dating realm, though, I learned there are people who assume everyone wants to play 20 Questions every time there’s an encounter. I had a fun analogy built at the time to describe both types of people but I only recall my way of interacting: a pinball approach. I like when conversations bounce from topic to topic and don’t have a set goal at the end of it…like this blog post…

Back to the question. I guess it depends on just how “together” this friend needs to get. This is all assuming I’ve even put two and two together in terms of life issues and behaviour patterns. I don’t always pick up on that kind of thing. I’ve already said I don’t pry, so if this friend hasn’t come forward to explain why he or she is having a difficult time, I don’t know if I’d think of asking for explanations.

Last one to the readers.

You discover an excellent wine imported from South Africa. You know it was likely produced by workers who are exploited and discriminated against. Do you buy the wine?


A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 3

May 15, 2012

I’m getting a kick out of doing this. Some of the questions out of this old Scruples game are a bit absurd and others leave too many options open for answers, but overall it’s getting interesting. Here are today’s ethical quandaries.

A friend asks you to join a demonstration for worldwide nuclear disarmament. You are busy. Do you go?

Where is it and how long does it run? If it’s at City Hall on a Sunday afternoon, I could probably swing it. Laundry could wait a few hours. If it would require weeks off work and cramped days sitting in a VW bus filled with angry sign waving hippies, I’d have to pass on it, no matter how much I might agree with them.

This isn’t news I stay abreast of, but I’ve found an opinion piece in the Toronto Star where the writer takes this position in terms of Iran.

Universal abolition of nuclear weapons is indeed a utopian ideal. As has been pointed out, it could not work in today’s international system of “a world divided into nations maintaining their full sovereignty.”

The authors of that comment were not utopians, though. They were the U.S. joint chiefs of staff. This was their judgment back in 1946, at the very dawn of the nuclear era.

Instead, we’ve gone the route of trying, by pressure and bribery, to limit nuclear weapons to respectable nations — or to weak ones (like Pakistan and North Korea). The consequence is an Iran within touching distance of gaining nuclear capability, and after it, almost anybody.

The alternative to that route would be, in essence, some form of global nuclear governance. Excruciatingly hard to accomplish, of course. But isn’t it time long overdue to have a serious discussion of that option?

And wasn’t that kind of initiative exactly the sort of thing that Canada, long ago it now seems, used to do and indeed was quite good at? Why not regain our voice?

We’ve seen the fall-out in terms of what happens in a nuclear event. Nagasaki and Hiroshima are testaments of that. No matter how bad one’s enemies are (or said to be), they’re still going to be surrounded by the innocent, those completely undeserving of the punishment. They didn’t necessarily choose their leaders and they don’t necessarily agree with them either. Those aren’t weapons anyone should use. They aren’t just enemy killers. They’re world killers.

Late one evening, your 19-year-old son asks permission for his girlfriend to stay over. Do you give it?

First, I’d be happy he asked. It shows respect for me and my house, which is cool, and if I said no, I think that means he’d abide by my decision instead of trying to sneak her in under the radar and risk disappointing me. (Or, he’s been sneaking her in for a while and finally feels some guilt about it…) While he’s nineteen and technically an adult, I’d rather know where he is and who he’s with than be up wondering why he isn’t home yet and what kind of trouble he might be getting into. If that means he has his girlfriend stay over once in a while, I think I’d probably be fine with it, so long as his girlfriend isn’t 17 or younger. I’d also be insisting on birth control, probably in some horribly embarrassing kind of way that only a parent can do.

You are a doctor. You have diagnosed a terminal illness. The family begs you to keep it from the patient. When the patient asks, do you tell him the truth?

If he asks, is it a safe bet that he probably already suspects that’s the case? I can’t see how lying to the guy would help the whole family cope with the news in the long run. I’d try to encourage them all to be open with each other and deal with the reality of the upcoming loss rather than pretend it’s not going to happen. They wouldn’t be giving their dad/grandfather/brother much credit. No doubt he’d notice a change in their behaviour towards him and know something was up. Also, how long does he have? If it’s a death that treatment could stave off for a few months, wouldn’t he want to know that option’s available sooner rather than later? At least give the whole family some time to consider the pros and cons of that.

Or, possibly the family just wants the news to come from loved ones instead of a complete stranger. Maybe they don’t intend to hide the truth from him at all, just choose the way they share it with him. In that case, I think I would have to respect their decision.

I leave the fourth open to readers:

The only available spot in the parking lot is reserved for the handicapped. You are in a hurry and won’t be very long. Do you park there?


A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 2

May 8, 2012

I found a copy of A Question of Scruples a while back and decided it might be entertaining to go through the questions and answering them as honestly as possible. Like last time, I’ll answer three questions and add one more for readers to weigh in on.

You want to landscape your property but find that trees cost too much. Do you drive into the woods and take some?

Ha. No. I’d just raid my dad’s yard. Mom and Dad planted 2000 trees or so on their acreage in the early ’70s and saplings pop up all over the place, often where they don’t want them. They’d gotten theirs through Indian Head’s PFRA Shelterbelt Centre.

The benefits of shelterbelts are numerous. Shelterbelts reduce wind speed and thereby create a microclimate for yards, gardens, and crops. The wind is deflected up and over the shelterbelt, creating a well-protected zone in the lee of the belt. The zone of protection extends outward many times the height of the trees. Reducing wind speed can have a dramatic energy saving benefit. On average, a mature 5-row shelterbelt, with at least 2 rows of conifers, planted around a farmhouse will reduce its heat requirements by 25%. The trapped snow provides water for dugouts and soil reserves.

Not to mention trapping the pesky CO2 while they’re at it, and providing refuge for wildlife of all kinds, especially birds.

A friend wants to copy and swap some expensive software. You know it’s illegal. Do you swap?

My copy of Scruples come out in 1984 just as personal computers were coming into focus as affordable fun for the whole family. Apple’s famous ad for the Macintosh ran that year during the Superbowl. My school bought a couple Apple II’s for the whole student body to share and by 1987 there were two IIe’s in every classroom. The junior high I attended after had a whole room filled with computers for kids who wanted to take the programming class. I was satisfied with what little I knew of BASIC and LOGO, which wasn’t much. I never owned a computer until I reached university and discovered they were actually useful for other things. To finally answer the question, yes, I’d probably agree to a swap if we each had something the other wanted. Illegal or not, cops have more important things to do than crack down on software trading when it’s on a one-on-one basis. Cops could get after the library for loaning out DVDs and CDs, too. It’s pretty damned obvious that if someone borrows fifty CDs Friday night and drops them off again Saturday morning that they probably ripped every one of them to their computer. We don’t flag their cards and report them. No proof they did that. Suspicions, but no proof. I think far too many people have already shrugged off the illegalities of it and it barely tarnishes their notion of being a law-abiding citizen. And to get biblical on your ass, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Do you see any stones flying?

Someone you don’t particularly like invites you to an expensive restaurant that you’d love to try. Do you go just for the meal?

Is he or she treating? I can think of a few people I’d force myself to sit across from if it meant I got free food out of it. If it’d be up to me to pay my way, I’d pass on the offer. I’d rather plan a night there with people I enjoy being around.

Last question, left for you to answer. Feel free to answer the other three as well.

The government has been overthrown by a party that is violent and undemocratic. You are asked to join the underground. Do you?


A Question of Atheist Scruples – Round 1

May 1, 2012

I found a copy of this at Value Village, a version of the game from 1984. I had no idea the game was still being made, though. According to official rules:

Scruples makes players sweat as they ask each other what they would do in a moral predicament. Luckily no one has to tell the truth and there’s no right answer!

Well, I guess that’s one way to play it. I was planning on playing it straight, though, since the point of this whole endeavor is to demonstrate an atheist’s ability to make ethical and moral choices. I’m going to pick three questions out of my card deck and answer them seriously. A fourth question will be added for readers who want to “play along” but feel free to respond to any question that looks like fun to answer.

So, question 1: You’ve gone to see a nude show. Next day, a female colleague asks how you spent the evening. Do you tell her?

Recall here that I am a woman, not a guy.

First, it depends on the atmosphere of the work place. I know people who made the mistake of telling coworkers they’d gone to the casino when it first opened and rumours got flying about how often they were probably gambling. Some of them were close to the truth, but that’s beside the point. Gossip might be the glue that holds a social group together but what people do off the job should be their own business (so long as it’s not illegal or hurting anyone). People love to judge other people on their choices, though. Setting up the notion that someone might have a reputation as a problem gambler (or “slut”) may effect how that person is treated in the workplace.

Second, it depends on how well I know her and what her role is in that workplace in comparison to mine. If she’s my supervisor, I don’t know if I’d admit I went to Chippendales or whatever. If I knew the woman well enough to know she was heavily religious and unlikely to be impressed with my blasé account of seeing men with their kit off, I’d probably lie and say I’d stayed in. If she was someone I did know well who’d be heartily envious over how I spent my night, I’d go to town elaborating on the show when we found a quiet time to catch up.

As an aside, Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada that bans the mixing of strip clubs and alcohol. A protest show called “Naked if I Want” is set to run here in Saskatoon on May 4th at the Cosmo Civic Centre. Email mybodymydance@hotmail.com to get more information or request a place on the guest list.

The idea was for the Liberals to host the stripping event and oppose the alcohol control regulation that prohibits establishments from serving liquor when the entertainment involves nudity, a strip tease performance, or a wet clothing contest—but the party shut it down.

“The members didn’t like it, there was no official policy passed, so it got shut down,” Buckner said. “I was devastated.”

Buckner, who performs as a drag king with the stage name Stevie Blunder, has since decided to hold the show and give the proceeds to support the Saskatoon Slut Walk and Consentfest. Both events are dedicated to “ending victim-blaming and making sex-positive attitudes where we really need them—here in Saskatchewan,” she said.

What a good first question. You’d think I had planned it so I could lead into that story, but I assure it it was all coincidence.

Question 2: In his will, a man leaves your charitable organization a substantial bequest but fails to provide for his sick widow. (The bastard!) The whole estate is needed to maintain the widow. (Shit!) Do you fight to keep the bequest?

Cripes. Temptation is to keep it, but if word got out, and it inevitably would hit the Twitterverse in a heartbeat, my organization would be likely shitbombed with complaints and accusations and a withdrawal of support from dedicated donors. Bloggers would write about this poor woman and set up funds so people the world over could dig deep into their own wallets for a couple bucks to help her out. She’d probably get a lot more money that way… but the right thing to do would be to announce publicly that the bequest was going to be redirected to her. The good press garnered from that magnanimous gesture would boost my reputation as a caring person and probably boost donations to my charity. Maybe I wouldn’t get the same dollar value in the long run, but I’d feel better about myself. She’d get the help she needs and I’d still be able to help others. Win win.

Question 3: You are the director of the neighbourhood food cooperative. A member – a single mother with four children – is caught shoplifting $30 in groceries. You suspect she has been stealing for years. Do you press charges?

I had to look up how food co-ops work. I’ve never used one, but I’ve walked by Steep Hill on Broadway quite often.

As a co-operative, our products represent what our members want: quality, not profit, is our motive. We as Steep Hill members have the opportunity to be involved with the everyday operation of our store through a monthly work commitment.

Shopping at Steep Hill is a friendly experience, without the pressures and stresses of supermarket shopping. Meeting your neighbours, getting to know people with similar concerns are added attractions at Steep Hill Co-op. Nobody profits except the members.

Okay, so I think what might work in a case like this would be bringing it to the attention of the other members to get their input. Would they be pissed off enough to want to cancel her membership or would they be willing to make arrangements for her to work the value of the food off? With four kids, she’d definitely need the food. I suppose it would also depend on how bad off she actually is. What if this is a woman who got a hell of a divorce settlement and could afford to buy organic at Sobeys but likes to give the impression that she’s merely a community conscious volunteer? In that case, yeah, I would want to press charges.

Question 4, and open to comments from the peanut gallery: You’ve accepted a date when someone you REALLY like calls and asks you out for the same night. Do you try to get out of the first date?

Okay, some of the questions are a little less thought-provoking than others…


So, I bought a copy of “A Question of Scruples”

April 21, 2012

Two bucks at the local Value Village. Can’t go wrong. Anyway, once I’m back to blogging more often, I’m going to start a series where I go through some questions from that game each week and demonstrate how an atheist can reason things out and come to ethical and morally sound conclusions. Feel free to add your own comments about my answers, if you agree or disagree with the choice I make. Might generate some interesting discussion and I promise I’ll actually participate in them.


Religious Canadians distrust atheists, too…

December 2, 2011

… going by results of a recent study published in the Vancouver Sun, at least.

Religious believers distrust atheists more than members of other religious groups, gays and feminists, according to a new study by University of B.C. researchers.

The only group the study’s participants distrusted as much as atheists was rapists, said doctoral student Will Gervais, lead author of the study published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

That prejudice had a significant impact on what kinds of jobs people said they would hire atheists to do.

“People are willing to hire an atheist for a job that is perceived as low-trust, for instance as a waitress,” said Gervais. “But when hiring for a high-trust job like daycare worker, they were like, nope, not going to hire an atheist for that job.”

The antipathy does not seem to run both ways, though. Atheists are indifferent to religious belief when it comes to deciding who is trustworthy.

“Atheists don’t necessarily favour other atheists over Christians or anyone else,” he said. “They seem to think that religion is not an important signal for who you can trust.”

I’d agree with that last line. Ideally one’s religion (or lack of) won’t even come into play when it comes to deciding who you can count on. Morality and ethics are not the sole (soul?) property of one particular group, religious or not. I wonder if people who are religious get cause and effect mixed up a bit sometimes. Their religion might not be the reason they’re good, just, honest people. They might have been that way even if they didn’t have a religious explanation to fall back on. Can’t turn back the clock and send them down a different future to test that, sadly, but exposure to religion might not be the main reason a person’s decent anyway. What if it has more to do with who their parents were and knew and what sort of upbringing and education they were able to get besides that? I think it really comes down to the kind of person you are, regardless of the kind of beliefs you hold. It’s hardly the only trait with merit.

Gervais was surprised that people harbour such strong feelings about a group that is hard to see or identify. He opines that religious believers are just more comfortable with other people who believe a deity with the power to reward and punish is watching them.

I’d bet a cookie that it has to do with the same fear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers preyed upon back in 1956. Communists were feared not just because of their ideologies but because you couldn’t tell just by looking who was a commie. They could be anyone! Some probably would like it if every atheist stamped themselves with the big red A and relieved the confusion. That would almost be useful though; then when atheists inevitably stop getting served at various restaurants, or get fired, they could argue in court that it’s account of their atheism. And perhaps win. But anyway, on with the article.

“If you believe your behaviour is being watched [by God] you are going to be on your best behaviour,” said Gervais. “But that wouldn’t apply for an atheist. That would allow people to use religious belief as a signal for how trustworthy a person is.”

Not just the thought of God watching, though. Other studies have been done showing how behaviour varies no matter what people think is watching, be it eyes by the “On your Honour” tea kitty or an invisible princess who might see you cheat at a game and report you.

Religious belief is known to have a variety of social functions. Past research has found that common religious beliefs can promote cooperation within groups.

Sure, but humans aren’t the only creatures on this planet that know how to cooperate in a group. Ants and termites can do it. Birds do it every day when they take wing suddenly, seemingly on cue. Many animals act as a team to take down their prey. Prey will often cooperate to avoid that. It might be possible to make the case that cooperation is simply an evolutionary by-product of herd/group living. Some might be better or worse at it, of course, and maybe in humans it made sense to further encourage cooperation by adding religious thought-processes into the mix. Animals don’t always cooperate, either. If you have two bulls after the same cow, neither will yield gracefully. Maybe religion has more to do with creating a means to combat our selfish instincts. Maybe the bigger pity is that it does take the fear of hell to make some people do the right thing.

Gervais started his line of inquiry about the exclusion of atheists after seeing a Gallup poll that suggested the majority of Americans would not vote for an atheist presidential candidate. Gervais and his colleagues conducted a series of six studies on a group of 350 American adults and a group 420 UBC students.

But even in more secular Canada, distrust of atheists ran high.

“We see consistently strong effects,” he said. “Even here in Vancouver, our student participants still say atheists are really untrustworthy.”

I got this story from friend and fellow Freethinker koinosuke, who’s made the point at various Sask Skeptic‘s pub nights that it’s always better to find the actual study and read it, but not all of us have that kind of dedication to the truth, I guess. Or the time. Or the ability to parse what’s hidden in there, for that matter. What I’m curious about with this is where these respondents got their information about atheists being untrustworthy. Not from actual/known-to-be atheists, probably. Where did they develop this bias? In terms of the students in Canada, where were they born? It’s probably the same everywhere, but universities in Canada are notorious for luring foreign money students over. I don’t know where I’d find the statistics on it, but I think Vancouver has a pretty high ratio of immigrants to “natives”, as well. If most came from countries that are typically anti-atheist, that’ll skew the results. If most were born here, where exactly? Some areas of the country are a lot more religious than others. Hell, some towns are super devout compared to a town 20 minutes away. There’s a lot of variation.

It definitely points to signs that atheist groups need to work a bit harder in the Vancouver area, and the rest of the country, too. Even though people like to say the opinions of others shouldn’t matter, I don’t particularly like the idea of strangers making that kind of assumption about me without evidence for it. It’s a stereotype that needs a serious shooting down.


Don’t be religious at work unless your work is religious

October 26, 2011

Doesn’t that sound sensible? I think that sounds sensible.

Sadly, it isn’t all that easy a guideline to follow in a world with so many religions, some of which requiring the followers follow incredibly strict dress codes and behaviour rules like mandatory prayer breaks five times a day, or avoiding certain foods at all times or fasting for weeks on end. Dealing with religion in the workplace can be tricky business, as those who study law and ethics are quick to point out.

Attorney Chad Wilson, who teaches applied ethics at UT, said the issue of religion in the workplace is almost a footnote in law school, but surprisingly is still evolving under the law.

Most of the laws protecting workers against religious harassment in the workplace stem from federal legislation passed in 1960s and ’70s, including Title VII. The laws apply on a state and local level and are not restricted to “established” religions, he said.

Most managers believe the way to avoid discrimination charges is to treat everyone in the workplace equally. While this may be possible in a homogeneous environment, sometimes it isn’t possible in the modern workplace, according to Wilson.

“Sometimes treating everyone equally means treating some people differently,” he said.

Like making room in the uniform codes for turbans or other head coverings, for example. Compromise winds up being the buzz word, but some employees and employers are more willing than others to yield. I thought there was news more recent than January about this, but I was reminded of a Christian Justice of the Peace here in Saskatchewan who was trying to claim his religious beliefs trumped the right gays had to get married and refused to do it. It’s since been deemed unconstitutional for Saskatchewan marriage commissioners to opt out of providing those services on religious grounds.

Justice Gene Anne Smith, writing a second decision for the court, noted the argument put forward by the religious commissioners could be claimed by those who sell marriage licences or rent halls for weddings.

“But more than this, it could just as easily, and with as much validity, be made by those who provide rental living accommodation to married couples [was tried by a landlord in Yellowknife a couple years ago], and even those who provide restaurant meals or entertainment to the public.

“The desire of individuals providing these services to the public to withhold the service from same-sex couples, on grounds of religious disapproval of same-sex relationships, is hardly restricted to marriage commissioners . . . It is fair to ask, then, why it is particularly important to accommodate marriage commissioners’ religious beliefs in this respect.”

Of course people have the right to follow their religions to the letter and believe whatever they have to believe in order to follow them. But when those rights are impeding on the rights of others, that’s where problems crop up – especially when someone tries to claim their rights are “more right” than the other person’s.

Knox County Law Director Joe Jarret said private and public sector managers have good reason to keep pace with changing standards associated with religious discrimination claims. Most of the laws protecting against religious discrimination are federal and carry large penalties.

Jarret cautioned against trying to make value judgments about any particular faith.

“Employers get in trouble when they question the sincerity of another’s faith,” he said.

As far as the law is concerned, practices including voodoo and Santeria are legitimate religious beliefs. Atheism is considered a form of belief and is protected, too, he said.

Jarret urged employers to try to understand and educate themselves on the variety of religions that might be found in the workplace.

Take that, American military! Atheists are soldiers, too! There shouldn’t be mandatory religious service or bibles passed out upon entry or rock concerts with a solid Christian edge or bible verses on gun sights or anything of that nature.

The article briefly notes religious schools and hospitals where the work is guided by faith-based mission statements. To me, it seems they’re in a different category in terms of this issue and I think they wind up having more rights to be discriminatory than they probably should. I’ve heard that Catholic schools would prefer to only hire Catholics who aren’t practicing gays and church-run hospitals still want the right to refuse to do abortions and other things they disagree with on bible-based grounds. I don’t think that’s at all right, but so long as other schools and hospitals are within easy reach, at least the general public isn’t forced to comply with those absurd restrictions.

There’s a big difference, though, between employers allowing for turbans and employers asking for crosses to be removed for safety purposes. The RCMP couldn’t discriminate against Sikhs by insisting only their official officer cap should be worn. Shirley Chaplin was offered a different position in the hospital, a valid option for employers according to the article. If the clothing or accoutrements will get in the way of doing business, change the way those people do the business. If it’s going to make no difference, just adapt practices and move on.

Personally, I’m glad I don’t have to be the one who worries about this type of thing. I just get to go to work, do my job, and go home again. Three cheers for manual labour…


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