Women born women?

Does your definition of women exclude some women? It is hard to define “woman” to include women with variations of sex characteristics, but not trans women. If you produce such a definition, it is hard to justify it morally.

It is tempting for the anti-trans campaigner to say, “Women are adult human females. No Y chromosome! No testicles!” However, that excludes women with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS), who have XY chromosomes but whose bodies do not respond to testosterone as foetuses, so who develop female characteristics. Some people have partial androgen insensitivity (PAIS) and differing levels of development of male genitalia, but women with CAIS have a vulva like a woman’s, a vagina which may be shortened, and small internal testicles.

One person I knew with PAIS was brought up male, transitioned to female, and spent some time expressing themselves as nonbinary, that is, something other than, not less than, male or female. But anti-trans campaigners often mock the idea of nonbinary. You can’t have it both ways. If everyone is either a man or a woman, you have to find a way of classifying CAIS people, who are assigned female at birth because that is usually the way they will be most comfortable living their lives.

The testicles of CAIS women produce hormones during puberty which actually help the body achieve a feminine shape, with wider hips and breasts. After puberty, they are usually removed, as they may become cancerous. They are inside the woman’s body. She has no scrotum.

The term DSD is objectionable, as it stands for disorders of sex development. Some do not like to be thought of as disordered, merely different. D could stand for differences, but V can only stand for variations. All other things being equal, it is better to be fertile than not, but every human is entitled to say I am who I am. I am a whole package. Do not call a part of me “disordered”, because it is something without which I would not be me.

Between 2 and 5 in 100,000 women have CAIS. That is much smaller than the proportion of trans women, which may be as high as 840 in 100,000. But, would 1340 women in Britain just not matter?

The beauty and terror of the female reproductive system matters. It is the cause of much male harassment of women. It makes women vulnerable. It is still, often, shamed, with women objecting to comments about them menstruating. Trans women do not menstruate, and Germaine Greer put this pungently: “If you didn’t find your pants full of blood when you were 13 there’s something important about being a woman you don’t know.”

Many women with VSC do not menstruate, CAIS women included. Women with Mayer Rokitansky Küster Hauser syndrome (MRKH) have a shortened vagina, no cervix and no uterus. Google’s “people also ask” had, “Do people with MRKH pee?” This demonstrates the prurience and ignorance of, among others, Adult Human Females. Who could imagine that any animal did not pee? They have ovaries, which produce hormones causing a puberty normal but for the lack of periods. Their eggs can be removed, fertilised by a partner, and placed in another woman’s uterus, which makes anti-trans campaigners’ objections to surrogacy questionable. MRKH affects 20 in 100,000 women.

A leaflet from Imperial College NHS Trust says it is normal for women with MRKH to feel angry and depressed. Many parents feel guilty. This shows how damaging our culture can be, with ideas of “normal” and “disordered” people, who are less. All privilege damages society.

Women with Turner Syndrome, only one X chromosome, have a uterus but underdeveloped ovaries, so they do not have periods and are infertile. Turner Syndrome affects 50 in 100,000 girls, and Turner Syndrome foetuses often miscarry.

About 42 in 100,000 people in Britain have a hysterectomy. They don’t have periods, either. They remain female, but not everyone agrees: “I’ve even had my sex taken away,” said a friend. This is internalised self-phobia caused by poisonous attitudes in society. In the US, it is 143 hysterectomies per 100,000 population, which may indicate that hysterectomy is a matter of medical fashion, and should be checked with studies of outcomes.

So, a definition of “woman” as “adult human female” excludes many people the anti-trans campaigner might think of as women. Then the definition begins to get messy: adult human females, plus some people with variations of sex characteristics who are culturally treated as women rather than third-sex or nonbinary. But, if CAIS women should be treated as women because of a social convention, why not trans women? We can tolerate shadowy existence presenting male, but we need to transition to live fulfilled lives. If CAIS women should not be treated as women, why not?

This paper argues that women with heightened natural testosterone levels should be restricted in women’s sport. However, any conception of “fairness” is a choice. All athletes have congenital advantages.

Around 1.7% of the population has some intersex traits, says Amnesty. That is a lot of people to be crammed into a definition of “woman” from which trans women could be excluded. You would end up with a list. But every biological category has fuzzy edges. No human characteristic can be perfectly defined with people definitely either in or out.

In claiming a right to include some people and exclude others as “women”, anti-trans campaigners are asserting privilege. They want to judge someone’s clothes, looks, and perhaps skull and hip to shoulder-width ratio to decide whether someone is “woman enough”. This results in misgendering lesbians. People who do this can hardly call themselves “feminists” or “radical feminists”. The best definition of “woman” is anyone who says she is one.

I am sharing pictures from Hooke’s Micrographia, because I find them beautiful.

Quakers and belief

What does it mean to believe?

I believe the Earth goes round the Sun. I believe in Milanković cycles, regular changes in the Earth’s orbit which affect its climate. Such rational, scientific belief involves trust in my community, in scientists who calculate such things in ways I do not know. It can be wrong, as Newton was wrong about gravity. Trying to distort religious belief to be like scientific belief leads people astray: the Flood did not cause the Grand Canyon.

I do not believe in Astrology, but observe that a magazine astrology column can give a little pleasure or something to think about. An empathetic practitioner, with a vast range of ideas related to planets, signs and sesquiquadrates, could see what spoke to their client and possibly give insight into character.

I believe in Hamlet, though the play is not historical: it portrays lifelike humans.

I have moral beliefs, which I have learned through instruction, example, experience, study and discussion. This year I intend to keep my promises better, having disliked breaking an undertaking. I also intend to promise, or not, more thoughtfully.

What does it mean to learn, and what do I need to know? As a member of a social species I need to know how to interact with other people, and how to be a member of the society that meets my needs. Much of that knowledge may be innate: babies recognise the patterns of a face. I understand others because we have things in common: I feel joy in service, and observe others do so too.

I learn through art. I contemplate images, my feelings resonating with them, so come to understand situations I have not experienced.

I learn the tradition of Christianity by reading and listening, then hone my understanding by talking about it. There is a rigid creed with nothing between Jesus’ birth and his passion, and gospels giving differing accounts of his life and afterlife. Jesus tells fictional parables, some disturbingly amoral, such as the Unjust Steward. I contemplate the mad Gadarene (or Gerasene), clothed and in his right mind after an encounter with Jesus, which may also be fictional. I find value in the Bible, Christian tradition and Christian writings, for learning how to live.

Then I learn spirituality by sitting in Quaker stillness for an hour most weeks over twenty years. I encounter unconscious processes and unravel the inner conflicts created by old trauma. I experience being given spoken ministry, and also speaking when I might have been wiser to stay seated. I know love for these people, sitting with me. I believe that meeting for worship and the business method have value. Quakers report doing different things during meeting: behind the still faces, a person might be praying, or counting breaths, or hearing God within them speak.

It is not true to say that you can believe anything and be a Quaker, even a Quaker in Britain Yearly Meeting. I believe meeting for worship has value, and that there is a wide range of appropriate things to do in the hour. Others have narrower understandings- “Thee should not have been thinking”.

Then Quakers have different metaphysical understandings of what underpins our experiences, In the Letter to the Governor of Barbados George Fox describes fairly conventional Protestant beliefs, including that Christ’s death was the propitiation for the sins of the world. We are rooted in Christianity, and many British Quakers have a radical Christian understanding of “that of God” in us. It is the Holy Spirit, which other Christians believe comes into us in Baptism and Confirmation, and we believe needs no ritual, because it is in everyone.

I might try to put into words my spiritual experience, for example, all my senses come alive, I see “Heaven in a wild flower”, usually there is a feeling of Joy with this experience, I am in the present moment not ruminating of past or future. That comes from my own experience. It feels distinct, now, from how I am at different times. My experience is evidence for my account of it, but not evidence for the metaphysical belief in God or Spirit. To say that Spirit causes such experiences goes beyond the experience itself. The experience feels like a blessing, but I could not say that Something blessed me.

I don’t believe in an Eternal Creator. I believe I am an evolved animal in a material universe, and there is no separate spiritual reality beyond baryonic matter. But the word “God” signifying particular experiences which I see in others or I share has value and meaning to me.

I would hope Quaker metaphysical beliefs would enhance our community and our practice of worship. We have a shared practice and way of life, not a shared belief system. Possibly the only belief required of someone joining us for the first time is that our practice may benefit them. Rather than asking what they believe, I would ask whether they are oriented towards growing in love in the community.

Might we have to expel someone for their belief? Only if we discerned that the belief was harming the community unbearably, perhaps because it was dogmatically held, and the person thought others should agree. We do not expel a Friend lightly.

My commitment to the community and the worship ranks, for me, above my atheist materialist beliefs. Therefore I hope that even if the Christian revelation of the Eternal Creator is true, I will not harm the worshipping community with my beliefs.

If Quakers honestly attempt to conform their beliefs to their experience, and are open to changing them, I hope those attracted to our spiritual practices will not believe anything that the community would discern to be harmful. Spiritual experience is beyond words, so I cannot produce a description in words precisely fitting my own experiences, though it is worthwhile trying to. When I do, I find similarities to others’ experiences.

We have some shared moral beliefs. We are pacifist. But we have a variety of understandings of that, and some Quakers joined the armed forces in the second world war. We have not yet reached agreement on assisted dying, and perhaps do not need to. Our moral beliefs change: when some Quakers owned and traded slaves, others began to say this was wrong.

In Meeting, I was contemplating Thomas Cranmer’s “Prayer of Humble Access”, which I said routinely as a child. It gained new meaning for me. “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table” alludes to Matthew 15:21-28. Then we ask to eat Christ’s flesh so that it will make us clean, “and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us”. That mix of unworthiness and access, humility and gratitude for the blessing I find in Meeting spoke to me. I grow in understanding, whatever I believe, or however I put it in words.

Liberal and conservative morality

Every community is exposed to two opposite dangers: ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand; on the other hand, dissolution, or subjection to foreign conquest, through the growth of an individualism and personal independence that makes co-operation impossible. –Bertrand Russell.

Jonathan Haidt argues in The Righteous Mind that morality has evolved so that people can work together in groups. He discerns six foundations of our morality, which conservatives value equally but progressives value differently.

He says progressives value Care/Harm, the emotional feeling we get from someone in need, or providing for them. Conservatives value fairness/cheating to a greater extent. I observe this depends to a great extent on trust, in individuals and in larger consequences. If a man has been claiming sickness benefits for ten years complaining of back pain, progressives trust that he is telling the truth, and conservatives do not; progressives trust that no great harm will come of believing him, because enough people think it better to work than claim on the sick, and conservatives do not. Progressives do not like cheats, but are less prone to see cheating. As neither group will always get it right, the question is which mistake do you want to make- only paying to the deserving poor, so failing to pay some who cannot prove their pain, or only refusing payment to clear malingerers, so that some malingerers get through.

Both value liberty/oppression, but differently. I consider this as a trans woman: my liberty to transition harms no-one and I count it as essential to my thriving. Moral codes should not constrain me. But the numbers in need of care are so great that government should tax and redistribute. Conservatives would be happy to support social cohesion through common understandings of what Manliness is, greatly increasing my suffering, but not want to pay the necessary taxes. Many well-off progressives are happy to pay higher taxes.

Haidt, a social psychologist, sees differences in personality: do you find new experience stimulating or threatening? How sensitive are you to possible threat? Montaigne wrote, The only things I find rewarding are… variety and the enjoyment of diversity. Conservatives would be happier in a more ordered society, with proper respect for authority. Progressives can find that stultifying, and seek to subvert the controlling ruler. Haidt’s Authority/Subversion foundation pits us against each other. How can we make things better, by finding what is wrong with the current ways and improving them? How is the leader wrong, and how may s/he be challenged?

Conservatives value sanctity far more, he says. I doubt this from my own experience. People value different things differently. I tend to feel what I value has value- the biosphere, the planet- and what they value has not- the Bible, traditional family structures, unwanted blastocysts. I can see that valuing particular things can promote societal cohesion, but I feel those things could be chosen rationally. Fracking, damaging the water table, is obscene. Early termination of pregnancy, disposing of an aggregation of cells which could spontaneously miscarry, is not. But I accept his moral foundation of sanctity/degradation: I may cut down a tree, but should not poison it, because that is dishonourable or unseemly.

I also feel that I, as a progressive, have loyalty/betrayal more attuned to reality than the conservative has. Whistleblowers show a higher loyalty, to the good of the group gained by acknowledging truth and making necessary change. Cover-ups stultify, and are a greater threat in the long term, though challenges to leadership can seem like a threat- we realise we do not understand the world, which is unsettling. However the book gives a way to see the opposition as arguing from different ideals, rather than necessarily blind or wicked.

I enjoyed the book, with its explanation of group selection over individual selection. Multicellular organisms are groups, the necessity as life becomes more complex is to ensure co-operation. A woman told him that groups gain success in the competition through breeding more children, rather than through war.

He also describes what he calls the “hive switch”, that moment when we feel part of something greater than ourselves, which we can attain at a rave or in a cathedral. One attained it through endless marching round a barrack-square: as the marching became more unified, he gained a sense of well-being. Collective ritual can achieve that. So religions can make groups cohere, refuting Prof. Dawkins’ idea of a meme, a set of ideas parasiting on groups of people.

People are selfish, he says, caring more about their reputations than their integrity, but also groupish, concerned for the interests of their group. We form groups easily, and create ways of identifying within them.

People are not rational. We make decisions on instinct, and then rationalise them. Hence confirmation bias. His image is an elephant, with a small rider, the rational mind: the rider is there for the elephant’s good.

Bloodless moralism

In First Things, Helen Andrews criticises consequentialist morality. It is no longer sufficient to know that something is wrong, one must give a reason based on outcomes, she says, decrying that. It is a long essay, and summaries of what she thinks is bad or good might be a straw man, but she made me think of One instinctively knows when something is right, which Google tells me was an advertising slogan for Croft Original sherry. One grows up in the right schools with the right education, reading the classics, drinking proper sherry as soon as one is old enough, worshipping in the Church of England, and the decency of ones elders rubs off on one.

There was a man who wanted to learn about jade, so the expert gave him a piece of jade every day to examine. After a few months he gave a green stone which was not jade, and the man expostulated, “You tell me nothing, you just give me pieces of jade, and now you give me a stone which is not jade!” Of course, he knew it was not, instinctively. Andrews praises Christopher Hitchens, who she says was not an expert in anything, but people cared what he had to say for two reasons: It was evident that he had read widely, and he expressed himself beautifully. Both of these are forms of authority.

She argues that social science research into good policy for good aims does not work. She cites the Doll tests, which she says were so flawed in their method as to be scientifically worthless. I could not comment- but if they are shown to be worthless, it is by other social scientists honing their methods, and finding better ones, or at least the pitfalls to avoid. That social science is difficult does not mean it is not worth trying.

The doll tests were used as evidence in Brown v Board of Education, mandating the racial integration of US schools. She approves that decision, but not that particular evidence. She does not say how she would have decided it- perhaps with Quemcunque miserum videris hominem scias,  a quote from Seneca, or Jesus’ teaching on who is my neighbour, to include the Samaritan, the hated outsider/foreigner. I am glad she approves the Civil Rights struggle, but judge her commitment to racial equality on her attitude to people of colour’s struggle now- this dismissive aside on “LGBTQ identity politics and black lives matter antics” may indicate that.

So her apparent belief in deontology may be naturally conservative, better at seeing when something has been recognised as right, than finding ways of improving culture. A good education is no guarantee of morality. People quoted the Bible to justify slavery. Perhaps the divide should be between those seeking to improve the whole society through moral action and those merely in it for themselves, rather than by the tools we use to find that moral action.

Or deontology works when we have an idea that something is right, but could not quite put a finger on why. It may be that I had a rule inculcated as a child, or a Great Ape instinct that this is beyond the normal behaviour of my species.

Philosophers could debate whether necessity or coercion ever justified theft without ever looking at consequences, either those imagined as likely or shown by social science evidence. People make slippery slope arguments which are later shown to be unfounded. My own morality is a mix of consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics, half understood, inconsistent, and almost certainly at least partly self-interested, but eliminating consequentialism would not improve it.

On the train, a woman could not sit by her ten year old daughter, so sat beside me. I offered to swap seats with the daughter so they could sit together, and she accepted, gratefully. It cost me nothing, benefited them both, and still gives me pleasure a week later, and I cited that pleasure when Andrew raised evolutionary arguments against altruism. “Not everyone would feel it,” he said. Those of us who do should stick together.

Bloodless Moralism.” I found it through Ross Douthat.

Why do people transition?

Why do people transition? Because we are trans. Because we are human. No more precise answer is possible- because we are complex organisms in complex social structures. But transition continues to shock and distress trans folk and others. Because I wanted to is not a good enough answer for me, because I feel I have suffered because of transition and life might have been easier without that desire; and not for other people, because they want to debate what rights I get as a transitioned woman.

The answer “Autogynephilia” is given by people who want to treat trans women as men, limit transition, and exclude us. So it matters whether that is scientific or not. It isn’t. Haters insist on it, though.

The answer “because I have a woman’s brain/spirit, because I am really a woman” would give us full rights, but I don’t believe it myself. Women’s brains are not particularly different from men’s, trans women’s brains are not clearly closer to cis women’s than cis men’s, it is not clear what differences would be relevant to transition, and brains are plastic, changing throughout life. “Gender essentialism”, the idea that women are in some way innately feminine, is offensive to women who reject femininity but are clear they are women. I observe gender non-conforming people who do not transition, and conclude the idea that people with ovaries are fundamentally different from people with testicles, with the exception of trans people who are really in the other group, is ridiculous.

There is nothing which is a virtue in one sex which is not a virtue in the other; no characteristic which one has but the other has not, apart from those reproductive differences.

“Should a trans woman be allowed in women’s space?” should be addressed without a definitive answer to whether we are women or not. Socially and legally we are women. At worst, we should be pitied and tolerated, for we are mostly harmless. Some say we are men, so should not be there; but society is too complex for such a simple answer. Anti-trans campaigners scaremonger with imagined consequences: male abusers pretending to be trans to enter women’s space, or cis women seeing trans women, thinking they are men, and being retraumatised over past male violence; but most people either don’t care, or see that the gain in allowing us to lead productive lives as members of society outweighs such imagined problems.

A trans person just transitioning might need to justify that to themselves. I wanted to believe I was really a woman. I feared transitioning if I were simply an autogynephiliac pervert, consumed by my sexual fantasies. You doubt yourself, so other people’s opinion that you are a man hurts- it was as if I wanted the whole world to say I was a woman because I could not trust my own judgment and any doubt of it confused depressed and terrified me. But you doubt yourself, then you transition, or you don’t. It is hard to be a campaigner when you need affirmation, because you will meet the opposite.

Now my answer is It was the best I could do at the time. I look back on the difficulties, but with effort I also see blessings, and I may have been worse off if I had not transitioned. It is part of forgiving and acceptance.

A friend said Those who look for a cause are looking for a cure. That was in the nineties, when gay people questioned their own orientation. This is who I am, they should say. Gay Pride. I still looked for a cause. Transition is such an odd thing to do.

Sexual morality

-Why is it wrong to steal?
-Because you might get caught.

Is it wrong to have a date with someone who has a partner? Well, have I any obligation to that partner? No, though she has; and she might hurt herself, too; though this might be the destructive act she needs to take to decisively move on with her life. Then again, if he might get angry with me that might be a practical rather than moral consideration. Even if we were to get involved, I might have no obligation to protect her from harm, only not to deliberately harm her myself. That sort of protecting could be enabling bad behaviour and encouraging unhealthy dependence and so, er, wrong. It is better to treat each other as adults. So it is her obligation to consider any duty to her partner, not mine; but seeing that she did not value that obligation I might choose not to get involved.

I could meet her, though, simply out of interest. People are interesting. No-one can be summed up on a side of A4.

I am interested in moral considerations. What is right? I will feel uncomfortable with something I think wrong, though might persuade myself it was not. Or I could meet her simply for a coffee and a chat- or tell myself that; but while the frontal lobe was telling itself one thing the amygdala might be doing something entirely other.

All this is apropos of nothing at all.

Moral considerations are separate from impulse. Something happens and all your attention is engaged. Hang the consequences. A friend said, “Of course you still fall in love; but you don’t act on it, because you are in a partnership”. This is a matter of self-interest, not just noble self-sacrifice. Then there are practicalities; and finally concepts of right and wrong. “I hurt you because I want to and I can” revolts me, and contradicts Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. Though that may be slave morality, for the good of the community rather than the nobility of the strong.

Oh! Why can’t we all get along!

It seems to me that I am a communal body, that I want people to support each other, to bear one another up with a tender hand, and I suppose that could just arise from circumstances rather than being a character trait. “Can I get away with it?” I am nervous round that question. The allegation against the Christian is that he makes a virtue of his weakness, but in the war of all against all we all suffer. One answer is that there is no possible overarching understanding, and that moral frameworks are only there to make us feel better, until we want to break them; whereupon we need only a new rationalisation. I am quite clear that physical intimidation is wrong in a civilised society- but then, I am not physically intimidating.

Happiness II

Happiness is dangerous. It is a threat. I might do something in spontaneous joy, and it would be silly, and I would look a fool, and that would be a complete disaster!

It is strange that when I drag the Foundational Truths of my Existence into consciousness, and examine them, they appear so wrong. I don’t think I have exaggerated this. I would far rather be right than Happy.

And yet recently I have had moments of Happiness, and- the world did not end.

The heart of the human is Love, and love is simple. It is unaffected. It is effortless. It is me.

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, the mystical marriage of St Catherine

“Rather be right than happy.” Mmm. So “right and happy” is possible in some situations, but we are discussing situations where it is not; and both “right” and “happy” have to have some meaning.

If “right”, I am in a place of intellectual understanding which I can justify by rational argument to myself. It’s not what works, because we work with other people; rather it is what ought to work, what by my own moral judgment ought to be accepted. That is, my right is judged by others to be wrong, but that is OK, because they are wrong.

I would rather be right. I would rather be alone with an understanding which no-one else accepts, with a plan which does not work, than surrender my understanding and-

I am working this out as I go, here. The alternative to my rightness is shadowy, I can’t quite picture it, but I know my rightness is Wrong. It is treasuring my comfortable resentment. It is what I have always known, it is where I am now, lonely yet keeping myself to myself, retreated to my living room.

Or-

Stupidity is doing the thing which you know does not work. Yet if I have an idea of how to achieve something and it does not work, I would be happier doing it again, like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the Hill-

for Sisyphus defied the Gods, sought Control in defiance of Reality-

so I try my plan again, and though it does not work, again, it is my plan, it ought to work, I am safe in my comfort zone. Happy enough, or as happy as I can be, even though miserable.

I would rather be Right, because Right is what I know. Opposed to this is the strange, shadowy concept of-

Happy-

My immorality

To see oursels as ithers see us…

I fear that your lawyer’s mind is far too supple and devious for me to cope with; it is, indeed, beyond my ken. Oh dear. So our friendship is over, and he does not want to see me again. He continues, his position was there were no absolute moral laws or absolute moral values. I think you agree with him. My contempt for him knew no bounds.

Our disagreement was about tactical voting. In 2010, at the election, the Tory majority in my constituency was 1,951. At the by-election, the Labour majority on a much reduced turnout was 7,791. I read somewhere that the likelihood of a Tory victory was 12%, a suspiciously precise figure and too high for my liking. The other candidates are unlikely to win. I proposed voting Labour, because the Labour candidate is preferable to the liar.

R resigned from the Green Party because he was considering voting tactically in the neighbouring constituency. He thought it dishonourable of me to consider voting for another party while remaining a member.

Well, I don’t. I don’t want a Tory MP, so want to use my vote in the best way to prevent that. My reason for voting Green would be that I favour their policies, and want to improve their national vote share, not because I think I could elect an MP. I also support the party with my membership, being part of the “Green Surge” and such leafleting as I have been doing (not a lot) in a neighbouring constituency. I am unsure whether my favouring the Greens is Moral, in the interests of the Country, or merely self-interested.

So I looked at him on Tuesday, as he expressed his disgust for my considering voting tactically, and wondered whether to explain. He counselled against, as it might increase his disgust. He thought of walking out, there and then. I thought of lying by stating that I would vote Green, definitely, or even changing my voting intention, but something, whether pride or morals, made me dislike these ideas. His email ending our friendship came on Thursday.

I find this deeply hurtful and inexplicable. I thought of phoning my friend with the Aspergers husband, but that would do no good: it is not because of Aspergers, nor can she necessarily get me a handle on how he will behave. I want him to back down on this, but can’t see any particular way to make him so will not respond.

The considerations are so small. My vote will have negligible effect, and I am unsure I want a Labour MP: Labour needing SNP support would be better than a Labour majority. Yet it matters to me, and I do not want to be told what to do.

I emailed the woman who ended her friendship with me, and had a moderately friendly exchange of emails.

The green sofa  *oil on canvas  *65.4 x 92.4 cm  *signed b.r.: J. Lavery

My morality

Conceptually, my morality is a mess, but it works for me.

I had thought I was so Consequentialist that my response to, say, deontological ethics was, well, what good does the rule do? I have to define what is good: whatever promotes the flourishing of human beings and the good of the biosphere. As a queer, I have enemies and persecutors and I want them corrected; but assert that is for their own good.

My morality is about balancing conflicting principles. It is good to live in a State with laws to protect us, so I should obey the law; but nuclear weapons are abominable, so I would break the law to resist them, if I see a worthwhile opportunity. My morality is contingent. Yes, Universalisability; but circumstances will be so varied that I can always find something to distinguish my situation from another’s.

Thinking of deontology, though, there are rules which I accept. Formerly, it was important to me that my morality was my own: I choose rules and assent to them, rather than having them enforced on me. I tend to feel don’t lie, don’t steal are good rules. I am fascinated to learn of virtue ethics. I see that virtues may be developed as habit, particularly virtues of courage or persistence. I love Aristotle’s Golden mean, the virtue between two vices, though the only one I could think of was courage between cowardice and foolhardiness, and that was the first on Wikipedia too. Eventually I found this.

I want what is fitting and honourable, paying proper respect to myself and the World, partly as an end in itself and partly to see myself as a good person. “I am the kind of person who…” keeps me on the right track, or attempting, or pretending. Virtue and rules may affect me more in the moment of impulse, performing an act or making a choice.

Thinking of decisions, I am more consequentialist, though I have a sense of what is fitting, what is ugly or beautiful in conduct.

Quite probably I rationalise in favour of my self-interest; but that includes considering others.

You see? A mess. But then life is complex, not to be reduced to an understanding expressible in words.

John Lavery, Evelyn Farquhar

Monkey ethics

To survive, I need others in my community to show empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking. So do other primates. The beginnings of our ethics and morality help a group in a social species flourish.

Other primates show reciprocity: If two monkeys perform the same task in an experiment, and are rewarded unequally, the one who is rewarded better is as angry as the one rewarded worse.Chimps are more likely to share food with those who have groomed them, than those who have not.

They show empathy: Given the chance to obtain food by pulling a chain which gives another an electric shock, rhesus monkeys will starve for several days. When two chimpanzees fight, others will console the loser, but among macaques a mother will not even console her injured infant. Consoling another requires a level of self-awareness and empathy only great apes possess. Female chimps will attempt to reconcile competing males, and prevent fights by taking stones from the males’ hands. So explains Frans de Waal in his book Primates and Philosophers, reviewed in the New York TImes.

They show a sense of social rules: where a chimp refused to share bananas he has found, the rest of his group punished him. I got this last from Stand to Reason, a Christian site which seeks to mock the idea of monkey morality: morality comes from God. It points out that in making moral judgment, we assess motive and intent, but asserts that we cannot infer that from the chimps’ apparently punishing behaviour- though it does not posit an alternative explanation for it. Strange to see the God of the Gaps argument trotted out, when it has failed so many times before: especially when it is already failing in this instance.

There are disputes among evolutionary scientists: EO Wilson believes that the better survival of some groups than others can drive evolution, as the survival of the fittest individual can, a view Richard Dawkins derides.

David Hume believed that moral views derived from emotional states, but Kant derived them from reason, which other animal experiments demonstrate animals using. Hume appears in “Stand to Reason” too: you cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’, it asserts. It is my feeling that my support for the woman’s right to choose derives from an empathetic emotional response to the woman’s need, and I then apply reason to justify that in argument. Kant opposed lying in all cases, regardless of anticipated consequences. (I know this because many non-philosophers like me find that view inexplicable, because we can imagine consequences we find revolting. Note the conflation of reason and emotion in that last sentence.)

For de Waal, morality is a sense of right and wrong that is born out of groupwide systems of conflict management based on shared values. All great apes manage conflict in this way.