A Persian Cafe, Edward Lord Weeks

Saturday, 13 September 2014

What are the rights of Children? Part Two

I previously discussed my opinions of some papers working towards answering this question; in this post, I intend to discuss a theory I have been developing, and discuss the very serious problems with its current state.

I start with the assumption that it is wrong for a child to be brought into life if they can be expected to have a life not worth living. Furthermore, this is not merely wrong but it is a violation of the child's rights. I integrate this assumption into a kind-of-Nozickian position and emerge that children should be treated in a way they would consent to in the hypothetical situation where they - or a rational agent representing them - and their parents signed a contract regarding how the child should be brought up.

As it stands at this, without working out what it implies, there are already several serious issues with the theory.

Enforcement

Some rights theorists have argued that having rights requires the ability to enforce them. I don't think I would necessarily go that far, but it is certainly fair to say that rights suffer in the absence of an enforcement mechanism. And, practically speaking, it is difficult to see how this theory would be enforced.

The starting point would be that, if a child's upbringing fails to meet whatever is decided to be just, then the child would have a right to sue their parents. There are problems with this, at least one of which I see no way of resolving.

Suppose the child is so badly mistreated that they die before reaching the age of emancipation. Then, presumably the right to sue the parents would return to the commons, and could be homesteaded by someone who prosecuted the parents. (This would not be much comfort to the child, but since no theory can raise the dead this is hardly a problem unique to my theory). But what if the homesteader of this right is a confederate of the parents, who does a deliberately bad job of prosecution? Even supposing this is solved, then suppose there is a competitive market of lawyers who will take up such cases. Suppose also that there is an inverse relationship T (between the time spent accumulating evidence before taking a case to court) and P (the probability of a successful prosecution, and hence a profit). If the right to take the case to court can only be homesteaded once, then clearly the market equilibrium is for cases to be homesteaded as soon as they appear and have a positive P.

This might be resolved by having an organisation which is automatically assumed to gain the right to prosecute a case, which might either prosecute cases itself or sell the rights on to lawyers for a fee. This might fund (for example) an orphanage. Such a system would be far from perfect, but does not seem completely unworkable.

The problem is actually greater when the child is still alive. Most people would be unwilling to sue their parents; even if the right to sue the parents were somehow homesteaded by one of our crusading lawyers, the case would be unlikely to succeed without the co-operation of the key witness. So parents would be able to get away with many abuses.


What does it even mean to "hypothetically consent"?

It is in many ways strange that one can be morally bound by a promise that one has not made. How does the fact that in a particular hypothetical scenario I would have agreed to take on a certain obligation bind me to it in the real world where I have not?

The best answer, so far as I can tell, is that it doesn't; rather, it is in one's best interests to act as though it is. Suppose that I would like to see a certain band live in concert, but am unwilling to pay the £50 it costs to buy a ticket - the most I would be willing to pay is £40. In order to prevent ticket touting, all tickets to see the band have the name of their owner printed on them and require proof of ID. An acquaintance of mine, B, has an opportunity to buy a ticket to see the band for £20, and so buys the ticket in my name. (B has no interest in seeing the band herself). While I would receive the ticket from B whether or not I paid her for it, if I wish B and other people I know to do similar things for me in the future then I would be well-advised to pay B at least the £20 it cost her to buy the ticket.

But this fails to solve the issue of exactly how much I should pay - it should be at least £20 and no more than £40, but could be anywhere in-between. In the scenario above we might well say £20 and call it quits (or alternatively £20 and either a box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers or a bottle of wine) but suppose that rather than as a friendly gesture, B bought the ticket because this is how she made her living. Quite clearly, then, I would pay more than £20.

Taking this to the case of childrens' rights, it seems that children should have positive rights going beyond "a life worth living"; however, we have no idea how extensive these rights should be, except that they should not cause it to cease to be worthwhile to have children.


Parental influence on the child's values

As good liberal neutrals, we should not wish to assume that there is a particular, uniquely and universally justified measure for how well a child was raised. Rather, we should allow a different metric in every case, dependent largely upon what the child ends up developing as their conception of the good.

The problem here is that parents have a fantastic opportunity to essentially brainwash their children. A child could be brought up in a cult, and so long as the child continues to believe that the cult is virtuous and that being part of it is beneficial, it is hard to see how we can object.


Conclusion

A basic theory of children's rights based upon hypothetical consent runs into several problems, which all tend in the direction of allowing parents far too much license in the way they raise their children.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

What are the rights of Children? Part One

This is (hopefully) the first in a series of posts discussing the raising of children from the perspective of political philosophy.

A topic in political theory which is particularly close to my heart is how children can and should be raised, and what claims they have on parents and on other agents. I recently attended my first academic conference, and while there I encountered three papers within this area.

The first paper, Is obligatory child support possible in a private law society? A contractual approach, by Lukasz Nicolaus Dominiak, was presented as part of a workshop on The Current State of Libertarian Political Philosophy. He was responding to the position set forth by Herman Hans Hoppe and by Murray Rothbard, which states that parents have no natural positive obligations towards their children any more than they do for any random person in the street, and therefore that mandatory child support represents unjust aggression towards the parent compelled to pay it. Lukasz argued that in a stateless, common-law society couples would sign contracts and that these contracts would specify child support to be paid in the event of a separation. He had what seems to me to be rather a confused argument that child support would be lower in such a society than it is in ours (the argument being that the current system of courts turns the parent with children into a monopoly. What, I wonder, does he see as the "product" being sold by this monopoly?) and some sound economic analysis to demonstrate various ways in which child support would vary from couple to couple.

My opinion, and I think that of everyone there (including Lukasz) was that, regardless of how accurate this was in a predictive sense, it relied on a set of moral premises one of which is completely unacceptable: Rothbard's account is far too permissive towards bad parents. According to Rothbard, if a child is left by its parents to starve, this is no violation of its rights; moreover, it would be impermissible for an outsider to violate the parents' property rights in order to rescue the child. Lukasz, I believe, thought that such behaviour by the parents (apart from being despicable, or course) would represent the abandonment of guardianship rights over the child, leaving another person free to homestead that right by taking the child in. My own preference would be to construct some account of how the child acquires positive rights against the parents, but this is proving problematic, as I will explain in my second post of this series.


I'm not certain I understood the main message of the second paper, Injustice and the Child's Perspective by Christina Schuees. It had references to Plato (bad) and to Miranda Fricker (good), and the most I got from it was the idea that children are the victims of various kind of injustice and are not in a position to do anything about it.


Finally, Gunter Graf and Gottfried Schweiger presented their work-in-progress Securing Justice for Children. Who is responsible for what? I liked this paper. It was clearly set out, which made it easy to tell where they were making howlers. There was at least one point in the conference when I felt like saying "OK, I understand your conclusion. Please could you provide an argument for it?" This was not one of them, for the simple reason that they were clear about this being a work in progress and the arguments not being fully worked out. One of the howlers was that, in the absence of arguments, they still had a conclusion (and one which sounded awfully like "We need world socialism!"); that said, it was an excellent demonstration of why all philosophy should be analytic philosophy and for that I thank them. I intend to refer to this paper in the third post in this sequence.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Salmon

While on the Rocky Mountaineer train I took part in and won an on-board poetry competition. My poem concerned the life cycle of the millions of salmon who spawn in a lake which the train passed. Beyond the fact that it rhymes and has for the most part a consistent rhythm this poem has little if any merit, and is in my own opinion ridiculously pretentious; nevertheless, the rest of the carriage lapped it up so I'm posting it here.


The Salmon
by Andrew Pearson

The lake, the ancient spawning ground
is tinged with pink the whole way round:
The salmon, having come upstream
have laid their eggs and gone to dream.

In weeks to come the eggs will hatch
Their awesome numbers set to match
the stars above; and yet net one
in a hundred will ever come back home.

They swim downstream for a year and a day
They swim downstream, let come what may
While most will face a death horrific
The fittest few will reach the Pacific.

They spread their fins with wordless glee
To far-flung corners of the sea.
As each fish travels where he likes
At once their natural instinct strikes!

All guided by the magnetic earth
To the great lake of their birth,
The salmon swim, but do not eat
Growing weaker each day of the feat.

Until, at last! The destination!
The last rest of a generation.
With final breaths the salmon mate,
And then commit themselves to fate.

The prize on the right, the prize idiot responsible for this poem on the left.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Notes on Canada

1. It's big. But then we knew that.

2. Instead of using the space to build outwards at low cost, the Canadians take a perverse delight in their skyscrapers. The picture on the right was taken from somewhere up the CN tower, and demonstrates the sheer density of skyscrapers, most of which would be the tallest building around had they been built in any British city (with the exception of London).

Calgary provides another example. When the Calgary Tower was built in the late 60s it had a commanding view all around; nowadays that view is blocked by all the other buildings around it.

3. The CN Tower, by the way, was well worth going up. That said, at $100+ for three of us to go up I'd have been significantly more reluctant had it been my own money being spent.

4. The St. Lawrence Market is also well worth a visit, and has the important virtue of being free to enter. That said, my guess is that the experience is significantly better if you (a) eat meat and (b) have cooking facilities.

5. The Art Gallery of Ontario was very enjoyable. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have an online guide to its paintings. I did find an online picture of an artwork which was only there temporarily: Thunderbird, by Wally Dion (above). From a distance it appears to be a crude, almost cave-painting-like picture of the legendary Native American Thunderbird; close up, you realise that the entire thing is a collage made of computer chip breadboards.

6. Speaking of Native American stuff, that's something they really play up. Tourist shops are full of inuksuks and totem poles, one of Banff's most notable tourist traps is the "Old Indian Trading Post"... I saw far more Inuit tat than Mounty tat, despite the fact that I was never within a thousand miles of where the Inuit have historically lived. (That said, I did meet a couple of guys who I presume were Inuit - we got talking in the sauna at the hotel in Toronto, and they mentioned living about 8 hours north of there and having come down in order to be checked over by a doctor. They also had a remarkably low tolerance for the sauna, finding the heat to be too much after barely five minutes).

6. Niagara Falls is another place well worth a visit, especially if you're on the Canadian side of the border.

7. Banff has some pretty scenery, but I would suggest that it is for the most part overrated. The lakes are pretty, but the glacier is all in all a bit dull, and the mountains aren't especially different to anything you could see in north Wales or the Scottish highlands. Sure, the Rockies are taller, but how many people can really tell the difference between a 3000-footer and a 6000-9000 footer when they aren't next to each other? Wales is also generally less commercialised.

8. That said, among the various tourist shops was a genuinely good art gallery/shop. My favourite painting there, with a price of approximately 5 dead Africans, was Shimmering Light by Rod Charlesworth.


9. Spending two days on a train is about as dull as you would expect.

10. One of the things which surprised me about Canada was how American it was. I have a vision of America, derived from films and TV, and I always assumed that Canada would be something of a half-way between that and what we might label "European culture". I was wrong, it's far closer to the American end of that.

11. Nowhere was this more obvious than in Kamloops, British Columbia, which held an unmistakable area of "Hicktown, USA".

12. Another thing which was evident in most places but most obvious in Kamloops: Canadian girls are - on average - prettier than British girls.

13. I didn't see all that much on Vancouver, but what I saw I liked. I was rather amused by a church which advertised "Jazz Vespers".

14. The forests of British Columbia are pretty. The non-forested bits are a mixture of alright-to-look-at mountains and ugly barren wasteland. One town by the name of Pemberton deliberately played up the Wild West feel with an authentic-looking (at least from a distance) General Store. It also had a pretty neat store called Odd Potatoes where we picked up for remarkably cheap prices a nice sharp knife and a slotted spoon which for some reason were not included with the motorhome we were hiring.



15. More on the everything-is-big-in-America theme: the trains! I don't think I saw any that were longer than about 180 trucks, but I didn't see many which had fewer than 120.

16. Canadians have a weird food culture. They seem far more concerned about their food being "organic" than Britons do, but lack anything of a vegetarian scene. I'm told Toronto has an excellent scene for ethnic food, but didn't see any of this due to my parents disliking any foreign food which isn't Chinese and my brother not even liking that; in other places they have many excellent steakhouses.

17. Before going there, I sort-of expected the grid system of roads to be more efficient than the ring-road system which dominates British cities. I was wrong: what it means is that you have to stop at a set of traffic lights every 50-100 metres, which really slows everything down.

I don't plan to return to Canada any time soon, and if I did then I would probably skip over large parts of it. That said, I enjoyed the trip and don't regret going.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Liberal Defence of Thought Police

Today while cooking I was listening to a Libertarianism.org podcast on the relationship between Christianity and Libertarianism. Doug Bandow was being interviewed on this topic, and he suggested that Christianity does not directly imply any particular political position, but that it does imply a certain set of values. He, of course, believes that libertarian policies would best promote these values. His argument was that there is very little in the Bible about politics*, and that rather than imposing Christian morality** upon others we are called to live our lives according to it and show its superiority to other lifestyles. He noted that salvation operates on an individual level, rather than at the level of the nation. He was highly sceptical of any attempt to force others to accept our views or morality.

Later on, I met with various other of the student-age members of my home church. We chatted for a while over tea and coffee, and then listened to a recording of a talk by the famously evangelical preacher Rico Tice. Tice is kind of like a public schoolboy evangelical Christian version of Peter Singer. One tidbit from the talk which particularly struck me was his interpretation of Romans 1:18-19 : "18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them." I had always assumed that this was aimed at unbelievers, being part of the "Christianity is obvious" schtick which I find deeply implausible; instead, Tice levelled this at Christians, charging that by failing to evangelise at every opportunity they are removing chances for people to repent and so avoid eternal hellfire. The structure of this is, providing you take the Bible to be true, remarkably similar to the drowning child analogy: replace "starving person in the third world" with "person who does not believe and trust in salvation through Jesus Christ and is therefore headed for eternal torment in hell", "giving up £200" with "facing intense social awkwardness", and you're basically there. Given that a Christian theocracy is unlikely to be achieved in the UK any time soon but that open atheists are increasingly politically prominent, Tice might perhaps agree with Bandow on prudential grounds that allowing the government to legislate religion is a bad idea in modern Britain; however, were that theocracy a real possibility, I doubt Tice would object to it. If more souls are being saved, he might argue, that outweighs any earthly considerations.

This leads me to wonder: suppose Christianity is true. Should liberals then object to people being compelled to believe it or act according to it? My suspicion is that while there would be a principled objection to compelling people to behave in a Christian fashion, this would not be the case for belief. Let me explain.

The basic message of Christianity, to be clear, is as follows:
God created the world and the people in it. These people sinned (that is, went against God's will). God cannot abide by this (as in, literally cannot - it is not just that He is unwilling) and so the punishment is to be cut off from God for all eternity after we die. But Jesus, the only son of God, came to this earth to teach God's word but more importantly to die as a sacrifice to bear the weight of the sin of all who believe. He died and was cut off from God - hence his final words, "Father, father, why have you forsaken me?" but returned after three days (I'm not entirely certain how the whole bearing-an-eternity-of-suffering-in-three-days thing works, but given that God is supposed to be timeless this is not something I see as a serious problem for Christianity) and went to heaven, and all who acknowledge that (a) they have sinned and (b) they can receive forgiveness through Christ, will indeed be forgiven and go to heaven - although not before an epic sky battle involving many-headed beasts and a star crashing into the earth and somehow only destroying a third of it. In heaven, the followers of Christ will experience eternal joy and perfect obedience to the word of God. There is also the Holy Spirit, a third part of God who will enter Christians while they are still on earth and will guide and strengthen them to be more like Jesus.

The key part of this is that salvation is completely binary. There is no "you almost made it into heaven, but you weren't quite good enough", there is only the simple question of whether you believed in Jesus and accepted him as your Lord. That alone determines your salvation.

This, then, gives no reason why people may (from a liberal perspective) be compelled to act in a Christian fashion. However, suppose it were possible to compel a person to genuinely believe. If this were done, then they would be saved eternal torment. And while liberalism is opposed to paternalism - in the words of John Stuart Mill, "The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over a member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others," - this is less like paternalism and more like Mill's Bridge case:

If either a public officer or any one else saw a person attempting to cross a bridge which had been ascertained to be unsafe, and there were no time to warn him of his danger, they might seize him and turn him back, without any real infringement of his liberty; for liberty consists in doing what one desires, and he does not desire to fall into the river. (On Liberty, chapter 5)

If a person believed that the Bible was basically true and decided to oppose this God for whatever reason, then a liberal would indeed be compelled to let them continue with this. But when the issue is one of having false beliefs which lead one to hell, liberals would not generally regard this as any kind of coercion - it would, in fact, be a rescue of sorts.

This does not mean, necessarily, that in the actual world Christians should be willing to brainwash people into believing. Quite apart from the potential for this to drive non-brainwashed people out of the church, in real life Christians should account for the possibility that they are wrong. But it ought perhaps to affect the way we think about freedom of religion. If we are truly confident, due to epistemologically rational processes, in the truth of a particular religion (for the record, I'm not and I suspect that 99%+ of people who think they are, aren't), then it is far from clear that we should shy away from attempting to convince people by any means necessary. The most obvious ways of doing this would be through control of schools and through censorship of alternative viewpoints.

(For that matter, is this strictly relevant only to religious beliefs? One could by this doctrine defend forcible medical operations upon people with silly opinions about medicine, forcible taxation of people who mistakenly advocate political anarchism, attaching chastity belts to teenagers who are being pressured to have sex by their peers and boyfriends/girlfriends.)



* I don't know that I agree, by the way. There are many passages with obvious political implications - not only the obvious ones like "Render unto Caesar" but also the origin of the Israeli monarchy, which was directly contrary to God's will; various passages in Proverbs (10:4 : "Being lazy will make you poor, but hard work will make you rich"; 10:22 : "It is the Lord's blessing that makes you wealthy. Hard work can make you no richer" ; 16:12 : "Kings cannot tolerate evil, because justice is what makes a government strong."); the behaviour of Daniel and his companions while in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon is a clear example of civil disobedience; and the entire book of Nehemiah, which was written by the governor of the Jews while under Persian occupation and discusses his travails in getting the city of Jerusalem rebuilt.

** I suspect this phrase, "Christian morality", to be at best a flawed way of describing what we mean, for reasons which should be explained in an upcoming post, but it will do well enough for now as a way of communicating the idea of living according to the precepts laid down in the Bible.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Tax Incidence

I've been enthusiastically linking to Vox since it started up, it's time for some criticism. Specifically, of this tweet:


As anyone with a basic understanding of economics could tell you, it's not about who has to pay the tax, it's about who bears the burden of the tax incidence. For example, if you require employers to pay a tax on all wages paid to employees, they will be less willing to employ people and so employees will be be forced to suffer lower wages. Similarly, if you require employees to pay a tax on their incomes then they will demand higher wages to compensate and so some of the burden will be borne by employers.

The point of this, then, is that measuring who pays taxes is pretty useless as a measure of who is actually being taxed. You can work out who actually bears the burden by measuring elasticities of the supply and demand for labour, but I've spent most of today drinking networking and hence am in no fit state to explain how this is done to the layman. In any case, this is hardly necessary, what I wish to say is that Vox is attempting to make a political point with figures which don't really show anything at all. (As it happens, somewhere in the region of 40-60% of the burden falls on workers in the form of higher wages and the rest falls on capital owners; neither of these is a desirable outcome, and taxes on capital are considerably worse than they sound).


There is another thing I wish to say about this. About a year back, there were adverts on the sides of buses in the UK - or at least, in Birmingham, I don't know about there rest of the country - put there by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, advocating National Insurance a workplace pensions scheme (thanks to Sam for correcting me) at least partially on the grounds that "you pay in, your boss pays in" and accompanied by the face of Theo Paphitus of Dragons' Den fame. While there may well have been solid grounds for supporting the scheme, this hardly seems like one of them. The incidence of the pension contribution will not change, any more than if employers were required to buy employees' groceries.


The move towards the scheme being opt-in makes some sense, as does the tax relief. However, requiring both the employer and the employee to contribute achieves... what, precisely? Increased paperwork? The most charitable explanation I can think of is that this kind of "everyone contributes" is modelled on National Insurance, which was designed in a time before politicians were likely to be criticised for poor economics. (This was a time when free trade, despite having being considered a no-brainer by actual economists for more than seventy years, was still a controversial issue, so it is harder to blame David Lloyd George for the poor design of National Insurance.)

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Idiot's Guide to Dark Magic

Book names, from top: Practical Meditation, Face to Face with God, How to Meet & Work With Spirit Guides, Practical Candleburning Rituals, Book of Spells, Psychic Development for Beginners, Pendulum Magic for Beginners, Life After Death (by Deepak Chopra), Cosmic Ordering Guide, The Chakras, Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Personal Development with the Tarot, Becoming Clairvoyant, Homeopathy, Angels: Guardians of the Light, Magic Eye(?)

This is a pile of books which has accumulated over the last couple of weeks in the charity shop where I am currently volunteering. During my less busy periods on the till I have glanced over some of these books, and I intend to present some of it in a hopefully entertaining fashion.


Face to Face with God
As the name might suggest, this is an (ostensibly) Christian book. However, it presents a view of our relationship with God which pretty much every Christian I know would consider to be heretical. Instead of encouraging you to just pray like a normal Christian, it provides advice on how to "ambush" God, and presents the process of getting to speak to Him as an arduous journey. The rhetoric of the book reminds me of the writer in one of Adrian Plass' diaries who contends that the idea of moving mountains with one's faith is intended to be taken entirely literally.


Practical Candleburning Rituals
Surprisingly, this book is also an ostensibly Christian one. See this page, taken from the contents section:


As an example of what is meant by "Christian rituals", take this ritual designed to "win the love of a man or woman":

 


Essentially, these are standard pagan rituals - legitimated by the inclusion of biblical readings, in this case from Song of Songs. Given that followers of organised religions tend to be less superstitious than the average citizen of developed societies*, I also wonder what the target audience of this book is.

Book of Spells
My manager was interested to know whether there were any spells which would cause every customer to spend £50 in the shop, so I looked up the section on "prosperity". Unfortunately the best day to perform such spells is Sunday - i.e, the one day when the shop is closed - and the best time to perform them is 5AM - i.e. well before the shop opens. I guess the shop will have to work without the undoubtedly awesome power of magic.


Psychic Development for Beginners
Well, this at least contains some solid practical advice. For example, see this guide to moving cars out of your way when they're driving too slow for your tastes:

Have you ever been driving on the Interstate highway system and become annoyed because someone driving slowly in the fast lane was holing you up? Well, I have and here is how I handled it...
 I altered my basic state of conciousness to my basic psychic level (eyes open, of course) and addressed the driver something like this: "Sir, I would be very grateful if you would pull into the right lane and let me pass because we have an urgent need to get where we are going. Thank you." He immediately pulled into the right lane. I mentally thanked him again and passed him.

Or alternatively, the author's instructions on how to remotely reserve yourself a convenient parking space: 
Before I would leave home I would alter my basic state of conciousness to my basic psychic level and visualise the parking space nearest to the building to which I was going (supermarket, work, etc).
I would visualise the space as being empty, with a sign on it that read, "Reserved for Bill Hewitt."
Guess what! It worked one hundred percent of the time!

 Homeopathy
This provided an interesting introduction to the history and the theory behind homeopathic "medicine". Homeopathy was first practised in the 1790s by Samuel Hahnemann, a trained doctor who was dissatisfied with the state of formal medicine ("alleopathy") at the time - and to be fair, this was at a time when bloodletting (that is, having a patients' blood sucked out by leeches) was still being proscribed as a treatment. He devised a theory that the body has certain "natural healing powers", and that therefore rather than seeking to treat a disease we should encourage the body to heal itself. He recognised that many symptoms of disease are in fact side effects of the body fighting disease (whether this was actual medical knowledge or merely a lucky guess, I don't know) and for this reason recommended that a disease be treated by consuming substances which produced bodily reactions similar to those of the disease to be treated.

As for the whole "the more dilute the active substance, the more effective it is" thing? Apparently that hypothesis was the result of genuine experimentation, when Hahnemann found that the more he watered down his cures, the better his patients ended up doing.

Having started reading from a pretty sceptical standpoint, I came away with the tentative conclusion that homeopathy was probably more scientifically grounded and less harmful than the official medicine of Hahnemann's time - after all, this was more than half a century before Ignaz Semmelweiss would come along to persuade surgeons to perform the basic task of washing their hands between operations - but does not seem to have really advanced since then, whereas modern medicine has of course improved immensely since then. It's as if the conventional wisdom of 1794 was "We must burn half of everything we produce, so that evil spirits will leave us alone!", Hahnemann came along to say "No, that's silly. We should only burn 20% of everything we produce, my experiments show that we end up better off this way," and then 220 years later conventional wisdom has moved on to "Burning our things is stupid. Boy are we glad we don't do that any more!" while Hahnemann's followers are still yelling "No! We must burn 20% of all we have, lest we be assailed by evil spirits! You madmen!"


*I can't remember where I read this, but it was the finding of a genuine study, honest! If there are any anti-religion people reading this, then please remember that this would be perfectly well explained by the brain having a certain level of superstition it tolerates/demands and religion satisfying this, so this is hardly a strike in favour of religious people being more rational than unbelievers.