Yet More Reasons To Hate Facebook


I’m always looking for more reasons to hate the mass marketing scheme known as facebook. Here’s a couple of good ones I hadn’t heard before:

First, facebook’s CEO confesses that he doesn’t really think privacy is important, or at least that most people don’t care about their privacy any more (and he’s quite happy about that). I think that most people on facebook are actually quite unaware of just how much privacy they are giving up when they think they are posting only for “friends”. (See also, more recently, this story).

Secondly, facebook hosts a 1,000,000 strong group praying for President Obama’s death. Should Obama supporters hold that against facebook? Why not? Other mass media – like tv and newspapers – are held responsible for their content, which is often supplied by others (like the wire services). Facebook similarly tries to make money on content provided by others, so why shouldn’t they be held responsible for that content?

Unreal Advertising From Equifax


I recently received this sales pitch from Equifax-

Here’s the second page-

Notice the warm and fuzzy testimony from folks just like us: an office manager, a high school teacher, a systems analyst, and the all-important small-business owner. No doubt that asterisk next to each comment directs us to a footnote which will inform us that these are real consumer comments, names on file. The footnote, in a font so tiny it’s almost illegible, is at the bottom of page 2. See it down there? I’ve highlighted it in yellow, just like the comments. Here’s what it actually says:

Now, doesn’t that just make you want you to run right out and buy security “from the nation’s oldest and most trusted name in credit”? (I know that this sort of fictionalization is normal in t.v. advertising, but somehow it seems more egregious and deceptive in print…)

Alan Watts On Transience


Alan Watts was in particularly good form when he gave a seminar called “The Mythology Of Hinduism”, available as a podcast on iTunes from The Electronic University. Here’s a brief excerpt on transience that will give you the flavor of his talk-

More Media Vapidity


Jason Linkins over at the Huffington Post provides an excellent example of how the media reduces all policy issues to a sporting event between two teams, complete with the cheerleading mantras, like “drill baby drill”-

So, as most of you know by now, President Barack Obama came straight out of the blue this week with a decision to start up some crazy new offshore drilling campaign. I thought the decision was pretty strange myself — but, hey, it’s an opportunity to ask some pretty substantive questions.

For example: What changes can we expect in terms of our oil imports from the Middle East? Has the technology of drilling gotten better–are we less likely to experience the devastation of another oil spill? How is this decision going to affect the bottom line of oil companies? Will they reinvest this money back into America’s devastated communities? Will they reinvest in energy solutions that are sustainable? In solutions that promote further independence from foreign oil? Is this going to increase jobs?

These are the sorts of things that your 24-hour news media could maybe take up in earnest. Unfortunately, they all had much better things to talk about. Who will win the political debate? Will this help or hurt Democrats? Will this earn them Republican support, on anything?

Here are the video excerpts that accompanies the post. I can’t stand to watch the whole thing, but if you watch just a couple of minutes, you’ll get the idea-

Magnetism And Consequentialism


‘Consequentialism’ refers to a family of prescriptive moral theories that hold that an action’s consequences are the sole determiner of its morality or immorality; intentions per se don’t matter. Utilitarianism – roughly, the view that the morally right act for agent A at time t is that act available to A at t that maximizes the amount of happiness in the world, and/or minimizes unhappiness – is a well-known form of consequentialism. Opposed to such views are moral theories that focus more on the agent’s intentions. A fascinating study out of MIT suggests that magnetic fields can bias moral reasoning in favor of consequentialism-

To make moral judgments about other people, we often need to infer their intentions — an ability known as “theory of mind.” For example, if one hunter shoots another while on a hunting trip, we need to know what the shooter was thinking: Was he secretly jealous, or did he mistake his fellow hunter for an animal?

MIT neuroscientists have now shown they can influence those judgments by interfering with activity in a specific brain region — a finding that helps reveal how the brain constructs morality.

Previous studies have shown that a brain region known as the right temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) is highly active when we think about other people’s intentions, thoughts and beliefs. In the new study, the researchers disrupted activity in the right TPJ by inducing a current in the brain using a magnetic field applied to the scalp. They found that the subjects’ ability to make moral judgments that require an understanding of other people’s intentions — for example, a failed murder attempt — was impaired.

The study offers “striking evidence” that the right TPJ, located at the brain’s surface above and behind the right ear, is critical for making moral judgments, says Liane Young, lead author of the paper. It’s also startling, since under normal circumstances people are very confident and consistent in these kinds of moral judgments, says Young, a postdoctoral associate in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

“You think of morality as being a really high-level behavior,” she says. “To be able to apply (a magnetic field) to a specific brain region and change people’s moral judgments is really astonishing.”

Professors teaching introductory ethics courses, take note: if you wish to discuss cases that bring out the importance of intentions in moral reasoning, you’d do well to make sure that none of your students are holding magnets – or cell phones? – next to their ears.