What to do about fear of violence

Be more concerned about what you control than what you don’t control.

© Dave DuBay

That we live in a more peaceful world today compared to centuries past may sound dubious, but it’s true. And despite well publicized mass shootings, crime is lower today than it was 25 years ago.

In Seneca’s fourteenth letter he discusses three fears relating to our bodies: fear of want, fear of sickness, and fear of violence. The first two most often result from circumstances. But violence is intentional, and that makes it seem worse.

Violence can’t always be avoided, however. The victims of random shootings or domestic violence didn’t provoke the violence but nonetheless were caught up in an unstable person’s psychodrama.

Some perspective is needed, though. Our fears are often disproportionate to the actual risk. And, Seneca warns, “an important part of one’s safety lies in not seeking safety openly.” To seek safety reveals our vulnerability, and that attracts the attention of people looking for someone to take advantage of.

And there are other things we can do to minimize the chances of experiencing violence. Seneca recommends that we:

  • avoid giving offense,
  • avoid provoking someone’s anger,
  • avoid the cravings and rivalries of the mob,
  • possess nothing that someone might want to steal,
  • practice philosophy with calmness and moderation,
  • and most of all avoid jealousy, hatred, and scorn.

But he cautions that avoidance has its limits: “What one avoids, one condemns.” And social rejection could provoke someone. So he warns us to be careful not to condemn people.

Seneca was born around the same time as Christ, who expressed a similar sentiment. “Judge not lest ye be judged” has become a cliche, and a misunderstood one at that. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t judge. Instead it’s a warning that we’ll be judged by the same standard.

Put differently, before you criticize someone you better make sure you have your shit together or you’re gonna get what’s coming to you. And don’t be so quick to think you’ve got your shit together. You’re probably just fooling yourself.

However, Seneca’s advice to possess nothing someone might want to steal strikes me as unrealistic. People have killed for a pair of used sneakers. It makes more sense to possess nothing you value more than your life.

Finally, it’s noteworthy that his list of things to avoid are not external but rather internal things. It is our own anger, hate, scorn, and jealousy that will get us in trouble. But the bad attitudes and actions of others are not under our control.



What’s my philosophy? Part II

Writing is a way of clarifying my thoughts. And my opinions change over time.

This is an update to my previous post, What’s my philosophy? Metaphysics has seen the most revisions.

The short of it is:

  • Ethics: Stoicism
  • Metaphysics: Logos
  • Logic: Empiricism


Stoic ethics—practical wisdom, justice, moderation, and courage—centers on the idea that the only things I really control are my chosen values, goals, and my deliberate thoughts and actions. Nothing else is up to me, and I must accept that.

Related to this is knowing what belongs to me and what does not belong to me—and not touching what’s not mine while guarding what is mine.

But I’m not a Sage. Stoics say the mythical Sage only needs virtue to flourish—and no one has ever achieved Sage status. I also need basics such as food, shelter, and safety (per Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) to flourish.


God is a loaded word. It means different things to different people. The ancient Greek idea of the Logos—the organizing principle of the universe—is what I mean by God (though this isn’t what most people mean by God). Neither I nor anyone else can claim special knowledge here—we must always admit a degree of uncertainty.

And I’m open to the idea that the Logos entails a moral order. I have no special knowledge of the specifics. Like everyone I must strive to be a good person, and primarily this means rigorous self-criticism. The key issue for me is that without universal morality we can’t say certain things are inherently wrong regardless of what some people might think. This is not proof of universal morality, but a rationale for belief.

But none of this implies an all-powerful, personal, or interventionist deity. There’s too much suffering in the world for me to believe in providence.


To understand the operations of the natural world we must use our sensory perceptions to test theories, and then draw logical conclusions. Certainty is proportional to evidence.

SPLC: men’s rights groups are hate groups

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s three pronged social justice strategy is to fight hate, teach tolerance, and seek justice. They raise awareness of right-wing hate by naming and shaming white supremacist, anti-gay, and anti-Muslim groups.

Flagler University, St. Augustine, FL. © Dave DuBay

Their focus now includes “male supremacy” groups. Like all things SPLC, this is not without controversy. Conservative critics decry the SPCL’s focus on the right. Will antifa be listed as a hate group? Unlikely.

But it’s not clear that the men’s rights movement can be generalized as right-wing. Warren Farrell, the “father” of the men’s rights movement, donated the maximum allowed to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The SPLC says a hate group “has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics,” with a particular focus on “race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

But this can get tricky. The SPLC labeled anti-FGM (female genital mutilation) activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali as an extremist because she has said that there is no moderate Islam, and that violence is inherent to Islam. Now an American citizen, Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim from Somalia and survivor of FMG. She is certainly outspoken. But is she a hater?

I’ve been critical of both the manosphere and feminism for the derogatory attitudes of some members of both groups. But I’m also skeptical of the SPLC.

The SPLC opens their statement about male supremacy stating,

Male supremacy misrepresents all women as genetically inferior, manipulative and stupid and reduces them to their reproductive or sexual function — with sex being something that they owe men and that can or even should be coerced out of them.

The SPLC goes on to include websites such as A Voice for Men and the Return of Kings as male supremacist. Yet, these are two very different websites.

Return of Kings is a website for pick up artists. They claim that men are superior to women, and they focus on women as sex objects to be used and discarded. But Return of Kings rejects the men’s rights movement because men’s rights activists reject traditional gender roles.

Paul Elam, publisher of leading men’s rights blog A Voice for Men, comes across as resentful of women. He appears to blame feminists for almost every issue men face. His blog complains about women’s sexual power over men. But AVfM also opposes the attitude of pick up artists.

However, the SPLC is disingenuous with its selected quotations. They quote Elam as saying that October should be “bash a bitch month” but fail to note that this is satire. Elam was protesting a Jezebel piece celebrating women’s domestic violence against men.

Further, the SPLC disingenuously associates Christina Hoff Sommers, the “factual feminist,” with MRAs. And they claim filmmaker Cassie Jaye has become a men’s rights activist, which is a blatant lie.

This does not mean there aren’t serious problems with the manosphere. But it does mean that the SPLC needs a more nuanced and intellectually honest approach.


Reconsidering God’s existence (or, the value of agnosticism)

Knowing and believing are separate issues.

Flagler University, St. Augustine, FL. © Dave DuBay

I’ve been an atheist for 20 years. Or more specifically, an agnostic atheist. That’s not a redundancy. Nor do I think that “agnostic Christian” would be an oxymoron, though I’ve never heard anyone describe themselves that way.

Agnosticism is about what we know or don’t know. Religious belief or atheism is about what we believe or don’t believe. You can say you don’t know if God exists. But this agnosticism says nothing about whether you believe God exists or not.

I became an atheist because there were too many supernatural beliefs—the virgin birth, resurrection, walking on water—that I could not honestly say I believed. On top of that, none of the alleged proofs of God’s existence actually prove anything. They may provide reasons that God might exist, but proof is a much higher standard.

So I decided that while I don’t know if God exists, it seems unlikely. I could not truthfully say I believed in God.

Of course, you can believe in God without believing that some dude walked on water. Perhaps God chooses not to suspend the laws of nature. But the biggest problem with believing in God is evil: if God were all-powerful He could stop evil, and if He were perfectly good He’d have to. Maybe there’s a bigger plan—which requires quite a leap of faith. Or God isn’t perfect. Or there is no God.

But a major objection to atheism is the question of why there is something rather than nothing. And while that raises the question of who created God, one strand of Christian theology holds that God is not a thing that exists but instead is existence itself.

In a previous post I argued that without God morality must be relative. This doesn’t mean atheists are less moral than religious people. No one (except psychopaths) believes that everything is permitted. But a relativist cannot say that certain things are wrong no matter what anyone thinks.

In a similar way, without God life has no meaning beyond what each individual might assign to it. Put differently, self-constructed meaning has no meaning beyond one’s ego.

Note that moral relativity and lack of universal meaning could be true. And we can’t say that God exists just because we want meaning and morality to be universal.

Further, even if God exists this does not automatically prove other Christian beliefs. I think Christians too often leap from “God exists” to “and therefore all Christian beliefs are true.” Instead, each claim must be taken separately. And this is a monumental task considering the Bible’s numerous contradictions and fantastical claims.

Earlier I wrote that we should trust no one who claims special knowledge about God, including whether God exists. And we should distrust our own beliefs about God most of all. The temptation for self-justification is too great.

I’m still doubtful of a personal God. Or if there is a God then I find it hard to believe that God is all-powerful.

On the other hand, the ancient Greeks articulated logos—the organizing principle of the universe—which pantheistic Stoics identified as God. This is perhaps more palatable in our modern scientific age. But we shouldn’t mistake this for a scientific viewpoint. And for many people I’m sure this is a doubtful abstraction.

The universe’s organizing principle—which I see as impersonal—is the closest I can get to something I could call God. But I don’t expect anyone to agree with me. It’s a personal opinion.

Progress and relativism

If morality is relative then by what standard can we say society is or is not making progress?

KODAK Digital Still Camera
© Dave DuBay

Saying that right and wrong are social constructs implies that actions aren’t intrinsically right or wrong. In other words, if human opinion is the essence of morality then we can’t say something is inherently wrong regardless of what some people might think.

That’s a common criticism of moral relativism. But taking this a step farther one can argue that the idea of progress makes no sense because progress implies an external standard along which a person or a society can move from a lower to a higher state. Sure, you can make progress toward your personal goals. But your goals are not universal. Other people or cultures might think your values are wrong.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that anything is permissible under relativism. Every culture and every person (except maybe psychopaths) believes certain things are wrong. So it does not follow that behaviorally secular relativists must be less moral than religious people. After all, Islamists believe Allah wants them to blow people up. On the other hand, there’s no basis for a relativist to claim that their moral beliefs should be considered universal.

But if we do believe certain things are right or wrong no matter what anyone thinks—and most of us do believe this—then we’re implying that morality is objective. If morality is objective, however, then how do we distinguish what really is right or wrong from people’s misconceptions?

This is often solved with an appeal to religion. God establishes right and wrong. And the Bible explains it all. Or the Koran. Or another scripture. It depends on your opinion about which scripture is the true Word of God, and how to interpret that scripture. So we’re stuck in a cycle of opinion.

Scriptures have others problems as well. Should gays and never married women who are not virgins be executed? The Bible says yes (Leviticus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

Despite apologetics that try to explain it away, it’s hard to honestly say that a perfectly good deity would command such a thing. Further, if humanity has morally progressed beyond such barbarism then humans have morally surpassed the biblical God. This implies that if morality is objective then God didn’t create it.

But could the laws of morality, like scientific claims about the laws of nature, have emerged spontaneously without a divine creator? The problem is that morality necessarily entails conscious intentions, so how does one construct a convincing argument that the laws of conscious intentions emerged by chance with no consciousness or intentionality behind them?

I don’t have perfect answers to these questions. One challenge of being human is that we’re smart enough to ask questions that we’re not smart enough to answer. But I can reach a few tentative conclusions.

A non-theist must accept the implications of relativism or develop a more compelling answer to these questions. But if God exists, and if God is the source of morality, then it seems to me that the best we can do is strive to understand morality while acknowledging that our perceptions are deeply flawed, and that we are easily led astray. And religion, rather than being a corrective, has long been a great catalyst for leading us astray. Scriptures, then, are human attempts to understand God, not the inerrant revelation of God.

We should trust no one who claims to know God’s will. And one should distrust one’s own beliefs about God’s will most of all—the temptation for self-justification is too great. This means that morality is primarily about rigorous self-criticism, which includes the realization that pointing a finger at others is usually just an avoidance tactic.


Putting dominance over truth

Discussions are too often about dominance rather than truth seeking, argues Spencer M de Gauthier. That’s why we so often talk past each other.

De Gauthier is a former communist who literally got his ass kicked by “social justice warriors.” In the process of trying to understand what happened he discovered the Youtube videos of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, whom Cathy Newman recently interviewed on the BBC’s Channel 4.

It wasn’t really a discussion, though, because Newman didn’t listen to anything Peterson said. Instead she responded to Peterson’s nuanced statements with, “What you’re really saying is…” And then she’d insert the most simplistic and derogatory statement she could think of.

Peterson, an expert on myth and psychology, became a Youtube star after criticizing a Canadian transgender equality bill (C-16, which eventually became law). Peterson doesn’t oppose civil rights—he opposes the law’s requirement that people use alternative gender pronouns in the workplace. The government compelling you to say something, he argues, is as much an affront to free speech as the government prohibiting you from saying something.

Peterson’s critics called him a bigoted transphobe. And Peterson attracted an alt-right following leading some to incorrectly associate him with the alt-right.

It is fair to say that Peterson hasn’t done enough to denounce the alt-right—if he criticized the right’s identity politics like he does the left’s then his alt-right followers would likely abandon him. The alt-right fails to understand that Peterson’s take down of identity politics also applies to them. After all, he likes to compare Nazis to communists.

But back to Newman’s interview of Peterson. De Gauthier notes that,

What is actually happening is not a conversation or a true argument (the highest form of which is for two persons to work together to earnestly ascertain the truth), but “a dominance hierarchy dispute with an ideological overlay.”

De Gauthier compares modern day efforts to persuade others with rhetoric (or coercive shaming) rather than reason, and the relativistic view that “truth” is not universal but context dependent (and power is usually the context) to the sophists. Socrates often debated and defeated these ancient Greek bullshit artists, arguing instead that truth matters.

Though de Gauthier is talking about social justice warriors, I think the rhetorical aspect is equally true of the right. But rather than relativism the right tends to appeal to religion or an idealized past. The right’s “alternative facts,” however, are as non-rational as relativism.

Newman, like the sophists, is not engaged in a serious quest for truth. She’s engaged in a dominance display. Peterson, however, refuses to play her game. He remains calm and collected. He does not attempt dominance over her. He only tries to correct Newman’s misperceptions. As a result Newman looks foolish, but this is her own doing. Peterson doesn’t catch her when she falls, but that is a reflection of true equality: Peterson neither attacks Newman nor puts her on a pedestal.

The gender wage gap is a particular sticking point for Newman. Peterson states that there are 18 factors attributable to the gap, and while gender discrimination is one it’s not as big of a factor as progressives claim. Newman claims that Peterson was really saying that this is just the way it is and women should put up with it.

But the research backs Peterson up. Politifact states that the claim that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same job is “mostly false.” The Economist reports that for the same job, women earn 98 cents. Even the American Association of University Women concedes that their “regression analysis of earnings one year after graduation suggests that a 6.6 percent difference in annual earnings remains between women and men after accounting for all variables known to affect earnings.”

Newman also took issue with Peterson’s reference to research showing cross cultural personality differences between men and women, which interestingly are greater in countries with more gender equal. So biology does play a role with gender, but not the crude biological determinism that some on the right advocate. Peterson compares it to the rules of chess: biology sets the stage, but within that there’s a lot of flexibility.

These research findings contradict progressive ideology. People like Newman resort to personal attacks because they can’t win the argument with facts. But trying to win an argument regardless of the facts places dominance above truth.

Women owe men nothing. Men owe women nothing.

Not even respect.

© Dave DuBay

Many of us were taught as children that no one owes us anything. It’s meant to curb any sense of entitlement we may be developing.

From this it follows that we don’t anyone anything. But this assertion is sometimes seen as impudent. And that can lead to a situation where we feel obligated to others while lacking the right to set boundaries.

Epictetus was a former slave turned philosopher. He counsels us to know what belongs to us and what does not belong to us. Other people and other things are not ours. But our deliberate choices do belong to us.

Further, there are two aspects to not touching things that aren’t ours. One is not taking something that belongs to someone else. The other is refusing to accept things that we don’t want.

For example, let’s say you don’t like a choice I’ve made. And let’s say you criticize that choice using judgmental language. My choice doesn’t belong to you, and your judgement doesn’t belong to me. I can neutralize your judgement, not by striking back at you, but simply by pointing out what belongs to whom and making clear that I reject your judgement.

That is, I can refuse to touch something that doesn’t belong to me. And I can drive the point home by noting that your opinion on the matter is irrelevant. It’s irrelevant because your judgement only impacts my choice if I allow it to. If I choose to disregard your judgement then your judgment become moot.

Easier said than done, of course.

And nowhere are these boundaries more problematic than with gender roles. The sexual assault scandal has brought many men’s attitude of entitlement toward women’s bodies into painful focus.

Yes, women can say no. But a culture that supports this is necessary to make it feel like a more viable choice for women. A popular meme along these lines is:

Women don’t owe men anything.

That’s an important message to teach girls and boys from the youngest age. But it’s incomplete unless taught in conjunction with what logically follows:

Men don’t owe women anything.

The basic notion is that not owing or being owed applies regardless of our demographic profile.

There is no equality if something is not given freely.

But don’t we owe each other respect?


Good manners and politeness are one thing. They smooth social interactions and are generally in our self-interest. And if we choose to be impolite then we have no right to complain if our rudeness is reciprocated.

But respect is a about holding someone in high esteem, and no one is entitled to our esteem. Nor can we say that lack of respect is disrespect. Respect and disrespect are two separate issues. That is, not respecting someone is about what’s being withheld (esteem) while disrespecting someone is about what’s being given (contempt).

And just as we don’t owe anyone respect, we don’t owe anyone disrespect. Even if someone is disrespectful toward me I don’t owe them disrespect in return. In other words, I am not entitled to revenge.

Finally, it’s often said that respect must be earned. I disagree.

Why would I want your respect?

If I don’t hold you in esteem then why should your respect be important to me?

Even if I do hold you in esteem why should I think you owe me the same in return?

Why should I jump through hoops to please you and thereby gain your respect? If you want that from me then you’re being manipulative, but your manipulation does not belong to me.

In fact, your respect will never belong to me because you can revoke it at any time, and there’s nothing I can do about it.