A Facebook post, in which a comment from my ethics professor is discussed.

My ethics professor told me yesterday that he does not believe that the social contract requires us to feed hungry children. Sometimes, he said, maybe they just need to starve.

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  • Charlie Lenk “Those who can’t do, teach.”
  • Vaughn Solo Wow, because that’s ethical. I think you may have picked a bad instructor.
  • Christine Pappas sounds like he needs to starve.
  • Hal V J Muskat Tell him most adults got over Ayn Rand by the time they were 22.
  • Jessica TheHun Reeder Ethics is funny that way. I’d guess he has a rational answer for this. For example try changing “children” to “fly larvae” and see how it sounds.
  • In response to your ethics teachers comment, that is true, but your moral judgment determines that it is deplorable not to, so you do it anyway.
  • Susan Barron Will he just starve himself willingly should such an occasion arise in his own life, just lie there and moan on about cruel fate, or is he also the type of person who thinks he has the right to take whatever he wants when he wants it, and damn the consequences?
  • Tim D’Ambrosio You are implying those are the only two options one has in those situations…
  • Matthew Ebert We generally accept the premise that human life is more valuable than other life forms, or at least our own lives specifically. There’s a growing consciousness of Inter-being,but even so, few people would consent to be changed into a fly larvae. As for feeding the hungry, I imagine he thinks it should be the responsibility of the parent, or some other segment of society aside from the government. I think if society, with government as the third party arbiter of justice, protects property from the fiddling of people who would use it to grow food for themselves, then society finds itself responsible to address hunger that results, especially because there is no lack of food.
  • Susan Barron Those are just my first two questions…
  • Chas Dawes Sounds like an undiagnosed sociopath to me.

    My advice, never ingest anything he is serving.
  • Susan Barron Perhaps he has a lot of family and friends he can lean on, or a charitable organization? To every problem, there are options.
  • Matthew Ebert When we chatted a bit about it, that was the gist of his position, that people should have the liberty to pursue their own sustenance from work or social condition rather than by benefit of the social contract, without having to cultivate those things. I just don’t think that the root cause of children going hungry is laziness or poor motivation. Hunger IS the ultimate motivation, especially in one’s own child. I think the root problem is a “social contract” that has been reinterpreted to let the little guy duke it out for himself while the powerful consolidate and strengthen their advantage. It actually behooves the elites to feed the hungry so they don’t rise up against them.
  • Simon Petruc government is just an organization of society, and society is just a generalized for of human interaction. in the simplest case consider 2 people, your professor and a starving person. What is the ethical thing to do? (Assuming your professor has enough food to feed both the other person and himself). I’d like to hear the ethical justification for not feeding the other person. (Mills?)
  • Matthew Ebert Right. He also felt that single payer health care was not the responsibility of government, because it limited liberty. And I’m like, uh, isn’t that what a contract does, creates a situation where everyone benefits and makes necessary concessions to their own liberties? Not to mention, arguing to defend your liberty to keep food from a starving child is pretty pathetic. And he identifies as a Christian… former Marine, too.
  • Matthew Ebert Now, I’ll be the first one to argue against government power when it is used to defend the powerful (Citizens United, capital gains, private property, etc.), and I also understand the concerns of people who warn about government being an obsessive parent. People ultimately are better off managing their own risks for the most part. But there are times when collectively managed risk is just smart. Having a military, for example.
  • Simon Petruc I can’t remember the ethical theory, but there is one that argues that since we have no way of knowing what sort of life we’ll lead before we’re born, logically, the most ethical society would be the one that treats the most poorly treated member of a society the best. (Where the worst off have it least bad). That way, with no a priori knowledge, you could reasonably expect to be treated fairly well. It’s a sort of social level version of “treat others as you would be treated”.
  • Matthew Ebert John Rawls, in A Theory on Justice, talks about a “veil of ignorance” whereby people would choose what is best rather than just what is in their own interest. It is an extension of Hobbes and the whole idea of a social contract. My professor says Rawls is flawed because it anoints an arbiter to decide from whom to confiscate the amassed fortunes of the “successful” people in society. Of course, right now society is constructed so as to take the wealth from the masses of people and resources of the planet and concentrate it into the hands of the few. But to my professor, the injustice of a child starving is sufferable, the limitation of freedoms in the wealthy is unconscionable.
  • Matthew Ebert And, “Treat others as you would be treated” is mentioned in Hobbes. In Confucianism, it’s “Don’t treat people like you don’t want to be treated.”
  • Matthew Ebert The whole idea that you set people against each other to get the best possible outcome is bullshit. If all those corporations really believed it, they would stop trying to eliminate their own competition.
  • Andrew Birkhoff I’d to look up social contract as I found your professor’s statement disturbing.

    Social Contract Theory Social contract theory, nearly…
  • Matthew Ebert This is the part of the ethics course we’re in right now
  • Andrew Birkhoff Another article suggest it’s the bases of American government or capitalism.
  • Matthew Ebert It just goes to show the astounding ability of human beings to hold two contrary ideas in their head at the same time.
  • Matthew Ebert Yes, it is the basis of government, that the Constitution is a contract between the owners of the nation, We the People, and the government that we delegate to administer to it. Of course, they didn’t REALLY mean we the people when they wrote it, they meant property owners. It’ll be interesting when we get into the difference between personal and private property.
  • Matthew Ebert Even the word “property” changed in meaning in the 18th Century. It used to mean a characteristic of something, as in “the beneficial properties of a healthy diet.”
  • Simon Petruc I was just looking at “Contemporary deontology” on wikipedia. According to the “principal of least harm”: The Principle states that one may harm in order to save more if and only if the harm is an effect or an aspect of the greater good itself. So he must consider a free society to be a greater good than a healthy society. In this case a free society is one where he gets to keep his extra food and an aspect of that is that someone else, won’t get to have his food and will starve. I get that argument, but here’s the problem: freedom isn’t just a positive assertion, there are also negative rights. Like freedom from oppression, or freedom from unwarranted searches and seizures. My freedom to shit where I feel like it stops at your right to have a living room free of shit. By the same token, doesn’t it follow that my freedom to accumulate stuff should end where that very accumulation causes harm to those around me (think of hoarders). What if the richest man in the world decided to buy all the food and not share with anyone? Is that ethically acceptable? At that point, why wait for the child to starve? Shouldn’t I be free to take the food from their mouth?
  • Mary Myers Some people just think too damn much… it’s easy. See hungry child. Give food. See? Easy/
  • Jason DeCook Smart comment, Simon. It gets my wheels turnin.
  • Matthew Ebert Oh, Mary. It should be that easy, shouldn’t it? I think the basic precepts of these Western philosophies, the idea that enmity and competition is “natural” and “ideal,” doesn’t hold up against the true “natural” world being interconnected and struggling toward balance. As man wakes up to existing as part of a family of living beings that requires cooperation and empathy, he will surrender the vanity of his smug, superior position. Or, he will die out.
  • Ben Thompson My ethics professor knocked a guy over the head and stole his shoes. I said, ‘What’s up with that?’ and he shrugged and said “Ethics.”
  • Matthew Ebert I just found it frustrating that he championed the idea that people should sacrifice some momentary pleasure for a greater duty to society when it comes to marriage (he was distressed that one party can choose to break a contract and dissolve a marriage), but in the instance of a hungry child, who is considered to be as yet unable to enter into a contract, there was no duty of society to provide food, that which GOD provides readily and man took away and packaged, froze, and stockpiled to assuage his own fear of want.
  • Matthew Ebert Fortunately, the Universe agrees with me: “The right to an adequate standard of living is recognized as a human right in international human rights instruments and is understood to establish a minimum entitlement to food, clothing and housing at an adequate level. The right to food and the right to housing have been further defined in human rights instruments.”

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)…
  • Matthew Ebert Taylor, we meet for Ethics class in the same room where we met for your class last semester.
  • Rachel Clein-Cunningham I’d be curious as to whether he’d apply for food assistance if he were starving.
  • Samuel Begler SOCIAL DARWINISM diminishes all of mankind and could easily be considered DE-EVOLUTION.
  • Matthew Ebert It is classic Republican ethics to assert that a fetus has rights because it is innocent, but a child can get off his or her ass and get a job. The rights to my property are sacred, but that lousy whorebag single mother has a lot of nerve asserting rights over her own body.
  • Samuel Begler fucking whore bags…!!!
  • Matthew Ebert Y’know, take one for the team.
  • Taylor Tiraterra I will not argue against a teacher whom I have not met. However, I can tell you that position clashes with all of my own ideas of the social contract
  • Otto Danger and how is this guys an “Ethics” professor. He needs to be fired.
  • Matthew Ebert He may well be arguing for the sake of a deeper understanding, but I suspect that he actually holds some of these beliefs. I was a little shocked when he asked me point-blank, “Do you believe it is unethical to allow children to starve?” And, that he disagreed when i answered yes, especially as he went to Freed–Hardeman University in Tennessee, I expected him to be a little more Christian. Feeding hungry people was kind of Jesus’ thing.
  • Otto Danger You should ask him if Satan is his lord and liege
  • Natasha Stanton There are many unChristian like Christians, the new Pope is trying to straighten that shit out.
  • Matthew Ebert We can agree to disagree if I want to get an A. Society is better served by me having a higher GPA then bickering with a philosopher. Plus, as we have learned, ethics are only imparted to others through strength (as in, convert to my faith or I’ll kill you), or through persuasion (convert to my faith, and you’ll get laid).
  • Matthew Ebert Well, Natasha, this fellow wouldn’t answer to the Pope in Rome, he’s part of the Churches of Christ sect.
  • Pete Cannon Don’t give in cousin! Maybe it’s a trap to see who the lemmings are!
  • Natasha Stanton Yeah I am 5th generation Nashvillian so I know very well the sect. I wasn’t raised in the fundi churches but had family who were part of it. I don’t want to judge them but ….. they have judged my kind all my life. Its a sort of oxymoron Church of Christ Ethics Teacher, oh that was a judgement wasn’t it. Would Jesus let a child starve? Wonder what answer he would have for that one?
  • Matthew Ebert His argument is not all that off-the-wall, and actually very mainstream. Give a man a fish, he’s fed for a day, teach a man to fish, he’s fed forever. And fishing is hard to do, and it takes getting up early in the morning and all kinds of discomforts. Even Jesus said “the poor will always be with you.” The concern is that if you just give people food and housing, they will never aspire to anything. The only reason people choose to work is because it is better than being homeless. Otherwise, everyone would just lie around eating that top-quality government peanut butter, eating MREs, living in barracks. Some problems, the argument goes, should be endured in order to foster creative growth, and if you just keep doing it for them, they never do it for themselves. It’s the “strict father” view of government.

    Of course, we don’t “just” give children food in this country. ALL welfare programs started as “Aid to Dependent Children” and then became “Aid to Families with Dependent Children.” In order to receive benefits, the custodian adult had to demonstrate they were undergoing hardship– originally, they were widows with no wage earning potential. Unemployment insurance also came out of this Great Society FDR era. But none of this is a gift. You have to be a citizen. With unemployment, you have to have recently worked and paid into the fund. With welfare, you have to be the legal custodian of the child. You have to demonstrate that you have looked for work, or if you haven’t, that you went to training. And after all of that, you are limited to 60 months of benefits, after which if you don’t have a job, you’re kind of screwed. With food stamps, it’s a little less restrictive, but they still check you out to make sure you aren’t just lying on your Mom’s couch. And, I like to remind people food actually DOES grow on trees. Generally speaking, the requirements around receiving these public benefits seem like more of a “teaching to fish” approach to me.

    You know, when Fletcher Christian et al. mutinied from the Bounty, it was because they realized they could literally lay around eating coconuts and fucking all day in Tahiti instead of the dangerous work on a British sailing vessel. Buckminster Fuller pointed out that with the advent of petroleum, society produces enough food and goods that quite a bunch of us could be laying around inventing things, writing songs, reading books, or whatever, rather than laboring at some banal Sisyphean task for a paycheck to prove our worthiness to exist. The cold climate white-skinned ethic of work work work has produced an excess of consumables as we have become “enlightened” and bent the planet to our designs, but all that cleverness has not eliminated poverty and hunger. And we call it a success, because at least you have a refrigerator and an automobile and student debt. The ability of society to produce relative leisure in the population though agriculture is precisely why mankind was able to stare at the stars, experiment with things, and learn about the world we live in. I would prefer to design a society that nurtures the talents and proclivities in people rather than one that questions whether a person deserves to eat.

    When Hobbes proposed that man’s natural state is in conflict with his fellow man, he cited competition, diffidence (which I’d say is a concern for safety), and glory. That immediately seemed odd to me that glory, so closely aligned with vanity, should be deigned a virtue in one instance and a sin in another. Also, if there is plenty, what need for competition? Perhaps social competition replaces economic competition in that instance, but it is only recently with the growth of technology and exploitation of petroleum that mankind could first boast that he could put an end to want. That leaves insecurity, and that’s the most powerful driver, because it is built from irrational fear. I would rather throw in with the cerebellum than the amygdala.
  • Jim Graham I don’t believe the social contract prevents me from putting Oil-Dri in his car engine.
  • Jill Marlene How in the HELL? where did he get his PHD? Online? at the Rush Limbaugh university for dropouts?
  • Mark Van Proyen There is no THE social contract, only a social contract. It lost me with implied consent.
  • John Jensen give a man a fish and he will eat – teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink himself stupid
  • Matthew Ebert He got his BA at Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee, then went to Harding University in Arkansas (also Churches of Christ), then his Ph.D in Philosophy in 1978 from the University of Tennessee.
  • Natasha Stanton “Bless his little heart” What ethical human would stand by and let a child starve, or an adult, even a dog, ???? I commend you for hanging in there for this class. I was taking a drug and alcohol class years ago and they teacher announced that once an addict their always an addict. I informed him I was a ex-heroin addict and had been clean for a long while from it and he ignored me. I got up and left the class and dropped out of the program. continued in the arts department and never looked back. Some teachers are just bad teachers.
  • Matthew Ebert Mark, I wouldn’t mind being immortal and omnipotent if I could swing it, but finding myself one flawed being in a world full of crazy people, I can adopt the contract already in situ, move somewhere else, work to amend or replace the contract to one that I prefer, or, take the route of Socrates. Most sage people in history chose to wander off into the wilderness.
  • Jill Marlene natasha… a sociopath
  • Natasha Stanton yep lacking empathy and only someone who is watching the bottom line would be able to starve a child.
  • Matthew Ebert His Harding University yearbook photo from 1971, when I was one year old.

    Matthew Ebert's photo.
  • David Lefevre Going to the wilderness always helps me.
  • Matthew Ebert Natasha, when debating ethics in the classroom, a little leeway to allow for the exchange of ideas is necessary. I admit, I was a bit taken aback, but it gave me the opportunity to think about what I believe and defend it. I think Dr. Cage is in excellent teacher.
  • John Jensen ‘the skeptics annotated bible’ all of the juicy bits are highlighted for you so that you can quickly use his own arguments against him – and a great big contradictions section in the back that lists verses.
  • Natasha Stanton I’m sure he is, but the fact that anyone is discussing the ,to feed or not feed a starving human is ….. barbaric…. and I fear we are headed for this in our society. I ran away from Tennessee when I was barely 20 to LA for a reason. I never fit in.
  • Dana Harrison Matthew – I have always thought you were pretty wonderful, but this thread is making me respect you even more.
  • Greg Allen How can I put this, you “ethics professor” is a morally, ethically bankrupt reprobate. He represents the very worst element of an ostensibly free society, and if there was justice in the world he would immediately take the place of a starving child being ignored by niggardly cretins such as himself. Failing that he ought to be locked in an unlit box three feet on a side, furnished with only a small air hole for company, and there he should remain until his bones crumble.
  • Renee Ebert Sad commentary on a human lacking in compassion
    20 hrs · Like · 1
  • SSgt John Kamikaze Kelly Great discussion! *salutes*


  • Jason DeCook Hack apologists for greed. Like milton freidman and his a hole acolytes.
  • Write a comment…

Sunday morning reboot


I was thinking about going to church this morning. Today is a day I have set aside to get prepared for the week, in true Sabbath style, and so I thought maybe I would find a Catholic church here in Sparks and go to Mass.

As it is, when I get up in the morning, I often find myself wallowing in the dream space, and so I try to take charge of my consciousness and get out of bed as soon as I realize that I am waking up. When I get out of bed, I drink a glass of water, and usually have to pee, since I try to drink a glass of water when I go to bed also.

Now, after this, I usually will check either the phone or the computer to see what time it is and start my virtual tether for the day. This, I think, is probably an unhealthy practice.  It would be better to do yoga for 10 minutes, to get stretched out, and to breathe in and out while centering consciousness around the basics of human existence. Maybe that will be something I adopt, but I did not do that today.

Instead, I thought about going to church. I looked up the name of a nearby Catholic church here in Sparks, and looked over their website. There is a virtual tour option that displays the worship and gathering spaces, which I thought was nice. Then I found the “Preparation for Receiving Holy Communion at Mass.” Let us review.

1. Catholics must go to the sacrament of reconciliation prior to receiving Holy Communion if they are conscious of serious or mortal sin on their souls. Refer to The catechism of the Catholic church if you are not clear about mortal sin: see #1855 and following in the catechism.

I was not clear about mortal sin, and so I readily found the Catechism online. When I reviewed it, it reminded me that I did already know what mortal and grave sins where, I just hadn’t thought about it in a while. Aside from a bit over overindulgence in food and drink, my conscience is clear. I am not a thief, liar, or murderer.

2. Daily prayer and reading Scripture the week leading up to Sunday’s Mass can nurture your imagination for an eager anticipation of receiving our Lord. It is really indispensible [sic] for a fruitful reception of the Eucharist.

I know there are old ladies who go to church every day. I have also wondered why there is a horoscope in the paper everyday, but not a passage from scripture. It’s not anti-Catholicism, since Protestants use the same Bible; I imagine in the South they might print a passage daily. I appreciate that the congregation is encouraged to set aside some space in their regular perception of existence to consider their faith. I tend to do this more in a Buddhist way than a Catholic one, remembering the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. Muslims are expected to constantly be aware of the existence of God; thus, prayer 5 times per day helps to remind them. In the Buddhist way, you cultivate a respect and awareness for the divine in meditation, and then try to carry that around with you. With practice, you aren’t thinking specifically about enlightenment, you are simply acting in a more enlightened way.

One of the things that is difficult for me to accept in Catholicism is the idea that only by accepting Christ into you from the outside can you be made whole, and you must do this with regularity to remain whole. In the Book of Thomas, Jesus said: “That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves.” Ah, then he continues: ” When you partake of the Holy Eucharist, have you received something from outside yourself? Not really. The Holy Eucharist is an invocation and remembrance of who and what you are in your inmost being and a drawing out of the Divine presence and power of the Holy One. It is a matter of education of the soul, a drawing out of what is already within you.” That’s the Jesus I like, but they cut that book out. Pity that the Dark Age manipulators decided to make everyone accept this literally. It works to suppress the imagination rather than encourage it. It actually diminishes holiness.

3. We are bound to fast for one hour prior to receiving the Eucharist. Only water and necessary medications are permitted during this hour. For example, if Mass is at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, one should cease eating and drinking anything but water at around 9:00 a.m., for communion time could fall around10:00 a.m.

This I also knew, having been well practiced in childhood. Also, I had not considered the fast as lasting an hour; I thought the idea was to not eat anything upon waking up on Sunday morning until after Mass. It seems funny to me that someone might sneak a snack leaving enough time to pass before the point in Mass where the Eucharist is offered.

4. In preparation for coming to Mass, we should dress neatly, preferably ”in our Sunday best,” for we are coming to the Banquet of the Lord! Care should be taken that we are modestly dressed. We should not come as if we are going to a beach or a barbeque.

5. Prudence dictates that we should plan ahead so that we arrive perhaps 10 minutes prior to Mass time, sufficiently so that we might not be rushed and have time to find a pew, make a profound genuflection or bow in recognition of Christ’s real presence in the tabernacle, and say a few prayers or preview the Sunday’s readings in the missalette while waiting for Mass to begin.

It’s sad that people would need to be reminded of this, but I guess somewhere is a church that people treat as a single’s hookup. Personally, I always thought it would be nice if everyone were required to be naked, in their “birthday suit.” What better homage to God? A bit distracting, unfortunately, for those who have trouble concentrating on anything anyway. And, sex apparently belongs to Satan, as if nudity and sexuality were one and the same. Well, men are visually stimulated, there’s no doubt. Modesty, then.

And, arrive on time! Ah, the necessities of theater, to get people in their seats before the show. Why no mention of leaving cell phones and personal computing devices at home or turned off in your pocket? Some day, I imagine there will be tablets to replace the missalettes and Bibles in the pew. I’d wager it has happened already somewhere.

6. Listen attentively to the readings once the liturgy of the
Word begins. Respond to greetings and participate in the
singing at Mass for full, active, conscious particpation [sic].

My father does not sing, but in church, he will at least try. I, too, never had difficulty being interested in church. Strike that, it’s not necessarily true. I did have episodes where I became sleepy or nauseous in church. There is very little variation after all.

7. At communion time, try to be recollected and eager in your
reception of the real presence of our Lord, body and blood,
soul and divinity. Be prepared to welcome Him into your heart. When in line to receive, when you are second, with only one person before you, make a profound bow, acknowledging His real presence. You have the option of either receiving the host in your outstretched hand or by your tongue. When the Eucharistic minister says “The Body of Christ,” you must respond, “Amen!” Similarly, going to the minister of the Precious Blood, you should respond to his/her greeting: ”The Blood of Christ,” with an “Amen~”

8. Catholics have the option of receiving communion under both
species: the Host and the Precious Blood or just one of the
species. If you elect to receive only the Body of Christ and
not the Precious Blood, you should make a profound bow while
passing by the minister of the cup. The entire Christ is
present under either of the species. Many Catholics make the
sign of the cross, having received. Take care to consume the
Host immediately, if you have received in your hand.

I like having this primer of what to say and do while accepting the Eucharist. Just having been Confirmed is not enough, and even years of repetition count for less than one might think when considering variation between churches and other factors. I also like the use of the word “species” to describe the Body and Blood of Christ. It made me think of Natasha Henstridge.

9. Returning to your pew, try to avoid any distractions and do
give our Lord a warm welcome. This is a very special time for
greeting Him and thanking Him for this most precious gift of
Himself. There is never a time when we who are attending Mass
are so united, true ”communion of souls” as one body in Christ.

I like that there is a reminder here that attending church is a way to become a connected, collective body. This is why I consider attending church, but I get hung up on some of the specific assertions of belief.

10. When Mass concludes, we have two options: remaining in your pew with a continuing visit with our Lord or leaving, following the priest and altar servers out to the gathering space and lingering, meeting and visiting with other members of Christ’s body, the Church. We should never ever dash out of the church and home without doing either of the above.

We seldom went directly home after church, even though we hadn’t eaten anything yet.

11. Spending time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during week days at our church is a great means of deepening your relationship with Jesus, ”spending quiet time with a friend.” This can promote your longing to receive Him in His real presence in the Eucharist all the more!

This is an understandable sentiment for a priest to invite everyone to his place, but there should also be an emphasis on being Christlike when you are not in church.

12. Catholics may receive the Eucharist twice in one day, providing that we have attended two full Masses.

13. Guidelines for receiving the Eucharist are given in the back of the cover of missalettes. We as Catholics should not receive
communion in protestant churches and they, not in our church as is more detailed in the Guidelines.

Ah, yes. Sad that we have our Christ and they have theirs. Doesn’t make sense, and makes me further want to reject the practice, even though there are many aspects I do like.

14. Catholics have a serious obligation to attend Mass on Sundays (or saturday eveinings [sic] after 4:00 p.m., and on Holy Days of obligation). See #2181 in The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
15. And, please, never, never come to church or Mass with chewing gum in your mouth. especially, for the sugars in the gum could be breaking your fast. Gum is very distructive [sic] to our floors and furnishings. Thank you!

It is a SERIOUS OBLIGATION for Catholics to attend church… and keep your stinking gum off God’s furniture. I couldn’t have summed it up better if I tried. I have now missed the 9:30 am Mass, but I have successfully filled my heart with the Holy Spirit, so there’s that.


Explorations, exclamations, and exhibits of my popular persona