Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 27 Jul 2007 19:43

Noon Position:  46 17.2 N  055 33.6 W

Course: 050, Speed: 5 knots

Wind: East-southeast 12 knots

Daily Run: 102 miles

Average speed: 4.25 knots


The last 24 hours have been uneventful.  The fair south-westerly winds we have been enjoying over the last several days came to an end last night as the low pressure system passed through bringing rain and drizzle and no wind.  We motored for a while in the early hours of this morning, mostly in Paul’s watch, but as soon as there was a hint of a breeze it was up sails and down motor.  Also saw another couple of whales this morning, humpbacks I think, but they were quite a ways off.  Now we are experiencing winds just south of east, which is pretty much on the nose, i.e. a head wind, consequently we are not heading in quite the direction we need to go and may have to tack later as we get closer to the coast of Newfoundland.  The wind is forecast to veer into the south later today, and freshen quite a bit so I expect soon we will once more being making good ground in the right direction.  But for now the sun is shining and the breeze is mild and refreshing, a great day for reading a book in the cockpit.




Here are some of my ramblings; feel free to totally skip this, but this blog is such a great opportunity for me to have my say, regardless of whether anyone reads it.  (Lots of time to think about things out here, and not many people to discuss them with.) 


The founding premise of the American Declaration of Independence intrigues me.  Will the world transition from sovereign states, freely surrendering certain powers, to a global community effectively dealing with issues such as global warming?  Will this premise be the guiding principle that informs our decisions?  One of the things that interests me in considering the global warming issue, amongst others, is the ethics behind it.  Why should people be required to change behaviors, and make sacrifices, to secure uncertain benefits for future generations and countries other than their own?  Perhaps the answer is self evident.


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Thomas Jefferson.  American Declaration of Independence.


What does Jefferson mean by the statement that all men are created equal?  He certainly could not have meant that all men (and women) are the same; we are all quite different with different strengths and weaknesses, smarter/dumber, stronger/weaker, faster/slower etc.  He must mean, especially when taken in the context of his Christian culture that all men were of the same intrinsic value, that no one man was worth more than another no matter his station in life or other such measure of worth.  You cannot put a king beside a pauper and say, “Choose, whose life is more valuable.”  You cannot put an octogenarian beside a babe and say, “Choose!”  That at least is the value system our Western culture promotes.  Clearly other cultural systems do not accept this thesis.  Rather necessity often dictates other rules.  Australian aborigines in time of drought practised infanticide when the tribe had to move and a new born would have been an unacceptable burden to their survival.  American Indians practiced euthanasia, the old would wander off to die in winter rather than burden the tribe in difficult times.  We send men to war, nearly all cultures do, for obvious reasons; the human species reproduces relatively slowly and offspring are vulnerable for a long period, we need many women but not many men to ensure the survival of a tribe.  Clearly there is an implied statement here saying in certain circumstances some individuals are more valuable than others, though I am making the connection that our willingness to sacrifice one life over another is an indication of the value we give it.  Is this true?  So these “truths” are perhaps not self evident at all, they only appear so when buried within the context of a particular culture. 


These unwritten value systems are being transmitted in popular culture all the time.  A recent example was from the movie, “I Robot.”  The hero was rescued by a robot instead of the little girl next to him because he had a greater chance of survival, but the hero thought that the little girl should have been rescued, not him, “A human would have known that!”  I am sure most people would unthinkingly say of course, but when do the weightings change.  These sorts of weightings go on unconsciously in the chemistry of our minds all the time.  The robot had been given a formula which indeed weighted all lives equally and it chose on the basis of which life it had the greater chance of saving, eminently rational.  When weightings are almost equal we procrastinate and get stuck, or decide as a matter of chance.


Nature has no moral system.  Evolution is an unforgiving mistress; survival of those who best fit a continually changing environment is her only requirement.  (I am guilty of anthropomorphising the process of evolution but I think the analogy is justified by the idea.)  Our intelligence is an epiphenomenon of this force at work, we, more than any other species, are able to rapidly adapt through changing culture to the changing environment.  If a cultural system works over time, genes get passed on, and the tribe survives, if it is maladaptive the tribe dies out.  All our high sounding moral ideas are only of any use if they help us, the human species in general and our tribe within it in particular to survive.  If in the long run they do not then those who carry those ideas will die out and the culture with it.


When the American constitution was drafted what were the issues Jefferson and his colleagues were trying to address, what were their interests and motives (“no taxes without representation”), what outcomes and effects were they after, who did they represent and who benefited from their ideas of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  These concepts, in particular the last, leave a lot of room for debate, what is happiness, what contributes to an individual’s happiness, what happens when one individual pursues their perception of happiness at the expense of others, due to inequality of power for instance: for example a wealthy (therefore in our culture more powerful) individual purchases property that traditionally was held in common for the community to enjoy?  What rights if any do the weaker individuals have to prevent the more powerful from impinging on their pursuit of happiness?  Societies try to balance all these competing interests to maintain a level of order that allows the society to remain viable.  When they get it wrong, i.e. the weak feel repressed to the point that their pursuit of happiness includes sacrificing their lives for the benefit of the group with which they identify, violence will break out which may cause that society to become unviable, apartheid for instance, and that society is forced to change until a new equilibrium is established.



Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Article 1


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.