Open thread for episode 22.39: Tracie and Don

Don changes it up from his “Failures” series, with a talk about India Landry, and her refusal to stand for the pledge in school: “Standing Up for Sitting Down”.

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  1. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    Video: WKUK – Pledge of Allegiance (1:24)

    I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America.
    Thank you very very much for letting us little kids live here.
    It was really really was nice of you. You didn’t have to do it.
    And it’s really not creepy to have little little kids
    mindlessly recite this anthem, every day,
    and pledge their life to a government
    before they’re old enough to really think about what they’re saying.
    This is not a form of brainwashing.
    This is not a form of brainwashing.
    This is not a form of brainwashing.
    This is really the greatest country in the whole world.
    All the other countries suck.
    And if this country ever goes to war,
    as it’s often wont to do,
    I promise to help go and kill all the other countries’ kids.
    God bless Johnson and Johnson. God bless GE. God bless Citigroup.

  2. Lamont Cranston says

    With regard to the Texas school issue. The Texas Education law states that, “(c) On written request from a student’s parent or guardian, a school district or open-enrollment charter school shall excuse the student from reciting a pledge of allegiance under Subsection (b).”

    It should be noted that in a law, regulation or code the term “shall” means this is an absolute requirement (legal precedent). It is not optional. The school is not allowed to disapprove any such request. I noted in the show it was stated that the mother had attempted to make such a request but was denied. I read several reports and did not find one where this was stated. What was stated was that no such request was made. Can someone enlighten me?

    Lamont Cranston

  3. twarren1111 says


    Mr. Cranston, I am not aware of specific Texas law. With that understood, the constitution is clear: no government, federal or state, can mandate any person to respect or identify or pray to or bow to any faith based system of determining reality.

  4. Kyle D says

    I thought that the whole reason for the segment by Don was based on the God part of the pledge yet nothing I read said anything about her complaining about the Under God section. It was simply a political move as the girl herself stated. I feel like bringing up the under god part of the pledge was merely a way to leverage a political statment into an atheist show.

    Tracie also claimed that the Principle is racist, saying:
    “Maybe if you were watching people being shot and killed every day for carrying a cell phone…”
    Where did Tracie read that this was the experience of the girl? Or is it just an assumption because she is black?
    Maybe the principle is actually just treating her as an individual rather than part of an identity group based on her skin color.

  5. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Kyle D #5:

    “Maybe if you were watching people being shot and killed every day for carrying a cell phone…”
    Where did Tracie read that this was the experience of the girl?

    Article: BBC – Texas backs school that expelled girl over pledge of allegiance

    Ms Landry told reporters her opposition to the pledge was political, and that she was inspired by the NFL players kneeling for the US national anthem.

    Article: Wikipedia – U.S. national anthem protests

    they choose to kneel during the anthem to call attention to the issues of racial inequality and police brutality.

    Article: Vox – Stephon Clark

    Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man shot by Sacramento police officers while holding a cellphone in his grandparent’s backyard last week, was shot eight times, six of which hit him in the back […] The shooting has sparked public outcry both locally and nationally. […] Clark’s death follows several high profile police shootings of black men in recent years. Research has shown that there are significant racial disparities in police use of force.

  6. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    <3 Sky Captain
    If you didn't exist, it would be necessary to hire a replacement!

  7. mike2018 says

    Hmmm…I generally love Traci but when it comes to the issue of morality, her point of view is so fuzzy. Feels like she has not got a hold on the foundation that can be used to ground morality. And when she starts to talk about tendencies and animals, it just confuses callers even more. Matt uses “well being” as his foundation for morality and that makes it easier to explain his point. I’m not saying that Traci have to use Matt’s, but she definitely needs something.

  8. Monocle Smile says

    I mostly agree. There are times when it’s effective for communicating a specific point, but Tracie often gives the impression that we have zero agency in moral decisions. I find morality to be simple to understand and I like Matt’s approach more.

  9. says

    >And when she starts to talk about tendencies and animals, it just confuses callers even more. Matt uses “well being” as his foundation for morality and that makes it easier to explain his point. I’m not saying that Traci have to use Matt’s, but she definitely needs something.

    I generally ask callers “does that make sense?” If they say “no” we can discuss. This caller did not express any confusion, and seemed fine with what I was saying. If they were confused, I wasn’t aware of it, and I don’t recall them expressing it.

    I don’t know what I would “need.” The research into moral tendencies in other social species explains how morality and moral tendencies are defined in humans. Without a grasp on this, then there really can’t be a discussion of morality–because *what is it we are even talking about, and based on what?*

    The fact is we have tests such as moral dilemmas that people are subjected to, and that they provide input for. They explain what they use to make moral judgments and we then research to see if we find tendencies in other species that match up with our own as a way of seeing if other species have “morality” in the sense that we, as humans appear to understand it. I don’t find this confusing at all. In fact, better defining what morality (or ANYTHING) actually *is* helps us to measure it and to discuss it cogently. When Agent-X does Y, is Agent-X employing a moral metric/tendency? Yes or no? “Did it serve well being?” is actually a LOT more (not less) fuzzy to answer in many cases.

    “Hunger”, for example, is not a moral tendency. Many nonsocial, non moral agents experience “hunger.” It’s not a demonstration of morality. “Hunger” is outside of the definition of “morality” in any scientific/research sense, and so it can be defined out of the discussion if we are opting or an evidence-based dialog on morality. That is, when trying to determine if another species has morality or proto-morality, do we ask “can it become hungry?” The answer is “no.” Many animals that exhibit no forms of moral behavior experience “hunger”. It is not a clue that an agent is a moral agent. Proving an agent is capable of hunger does not demonstrate morality on the part of that agent–as opposed to being able to demonstrate, for example “empathy.” A species/agent that shows “empathy” is showing a moral tendency.

    “Well being” is an ethic used to guide an agent’s moral decision-making in situations. The reason “well being” is what it is, is because of the step back to the moral tendencies which result in “well being” when employed, and not when not employed. In other words, it’s what the caller said about “good” and the question of why we should be good. “Good” and “well being” do not exist in a vacuum. They are what people label the results of employing the moral tendencies. What happens when we are empathetic, meet feelings of obligation toward others, work toward fairness, etc.? That result is what we call “good” and “well being”. If you didn’t have these tendencies, then “well being” would be meaningless. They create the meaning of “well being” and “good.” When people employ behaviors and attitudes that are not conducive to the tendencies, when I act in ways we consider “unfair” or “without empathy”, “without compassion”, etc., then I am labeled “evil” and “harmful” and “bad.”

    You can’t get to “well being” without first acknowledging what morality *is*–which is a set of tendencies we experience that serve us as a social species, with bonding and building trust and social reliance. And it’s defined best by researchers who seek these tendencies in other species, because it’s literally their *job* to define it, in order to do what they do. They have explained to us, in the most detail and with the best available data, what “morality” is.

    How you proceed with that info–whether “well being” or “what’s best for the most people” or “what’s best for me,” or whatever ethical foundation you want to put to it, is up to you. But when someone wants to talk about “morality”–then we need to at least agree about what it is we’re talking about–or else it’s as ambiguous as “god.”

    When it comes to “well being”–I’ve had people call with dilemmas asking me “is this serving well-being?” And I can’t answer that–many times well being is served for some, but harm is done as well to others. I can, however, examine whether moral tendencies are being employed in the actions of agent. If not, the action is either moral or immoral. But something can serve well being, and not be moral. For example, things like eating broccoli, running a mile a day, keeping in touch with old friends, all can serve well being, but none of those are moral actions–they are amoral.

    The effect of employing moral tendencies, as well, may not be conducive to well being in all cases. I could feel empathetic toward someone in a burning vehicle, rush to try and save them, and end up getting us both killed in the ensuing explosion–compounding the harm by causing two deaths rather than one. I certainly acted in a reckless way that compounded harm, but I acted morally, since I was responding to moral tendencies when I did what I did, even if I knew beforehand there was little hope of success. You could argue I was “trying” to ensure the victim’s well being, but all you’re really saying is that pursuing moral tendencies leads to what you label “well being.” And, we’re back to morality being the tendencies, and “well being” being what some people label as the result of responding to moral tendencies. Because clearly I did not serve well being at all with what I did, but I did act morally *regardless* because I was responding to moral tendencies.

  10. Monocle Smile says

    I agree that it’s important to establish what morality is, but I think it should be enough to just descibe it as a system by which we evaluate social interactions with respect to ideals.

    This is perhaps because I think most of the “morality” callers actually understand everything you posted and are merely being intentionally obtuse to score meaningless points.

  11. says

    >but I think it should be enough to just descibe it as a system by which we evaluate social interactions with respect to ideals.

    This makes any guide “morality.” Literally this definition makes what happened in Nazi Germany “moral.”

  12. Monocle Smile says

    Exactly, which is why having ethics to guide the decision making is important. We have evolved guides like you describe, but we can refine them and well-being works as a solid ethic. I just think morality is more generalized than merely “what is” on this planet.

  13. paxoll says


    Literally this definition makes what happened in Nazi Germany “moral.”

    Pentecostals think showing ankle skin is immoral, while Jews think halal food preparation is moral. So, yes that does make any guide “morality”. The whole purpose of moral discussions is to find a commonality to allow people to than build rational agreements on. The first step is to define what morality is, and this is where evolution of social species is useful, using our natural instincts to identify what makes a decision moral/immoral, or amoral. When we get that “system by which we evaluate social interactions with respect to ideals.” type of definition, than we can use reasoning to decide what ideal we need to fulfill our natural instincts, and vice versa, we can evaluate what types of social interactions those ideals will lead to using hypothetical moral dilemmas. When we hash through and come up with something like “well being” as the common ideal for morality then we get to move on to if pulling someone from a burning car is moral based on an unknown outcome and the differences in moral virtues vs moral obligations. It is a really long process to bring someone through in conversation so its important to identify where a persons question of morality fits and work from there.

  14. Larry Cahoon says

    I am with Tracie on bringing up the animal studies on morality. If nothing else it show that morality exists apart from any god. It also shows that how morality is expressed varies by the type of animal. The discussion of what is viewed as fair is a case in point. This then feed into the discussion that morality is not as objective as many Christians seem to want to claim that it is.

    I also liked the split of morals verses ethics. Keying into ethics as a set of rules links very well to the authoritarian rule based approach of many Christians.

    As for the Matt/Tracie comparisons I like very much that they come at the questions differently. Just seeing different ways that the issue can be viewed and discussed I find useful in broadening my own perspective on the question.

  15. mike2018 says

    Hi heicart, are you Tracie? You responded to my comment as though you are Tracie. If you are not her, i apologize. Not sure that actually relevant. You comment stands on it’s own merit weather or not you are her. Sounds like something Matt would say…hahaha. Sorry, for the nonsense.

    In respond to your comment, I understand that you are trying to define what morality is. And you said that morality is a set of tendencies that exist in humans and some animals. I don’t fault you for your definition because i’m not sure i can come up with a better definition for morality. If there is a good definition for morality out there, I am not aware of it. I don’t think even Matt has a good definition for morality. So every time, a caller called in about morality, he skips the definition altogether and go directly to well being. Which is not necessary a bad thing.

    I think Matt knows that when Theists callers call in, they do not really want to know what morality is but rather how, Atheists, use it. How to make judgement on what is and is not moral without a god/gods as a foundation and/or goal. So, when you have the physical facts of the universe served as the foundation and well being served as the goal; this makes it pretty clear on what to do during any given situation. What is added or improved to the goal is moral and what is subtracted or diminished from the goal is immoral.

    You, on the other hand, are trying to define what morality actually is and i think that’s a good thing. We really do need a good definition for morality. It would be nice if we all can agree on a definition. At least, it will give us all a good starting point. I really wish that, someday, you could sum up what you are trying explain about morality in a paragraph or two without having to go through all the examples that you gave. I realize that is a little bit unfair, since morality is not a easy concept to explain or understood.

    As far as the particular caller on this episode regarding weather or not he understood the explanation, I think he either got confused or got lost and just tuned out and didn’t want to admit it. He just go along to get along. I could be wrong but feel free to re-watch the section again.

    Damn, longest comment I’ve ever made on a forum. I must be really into this thing.

  16. John David Balla says

    I find this to be a productive and meaningful discussion. And at the risk of complicating the discussion…

    My interpretation of the Tracie (moral tendency) model:

    Moral tendencies appear in an objective spectrum for which the range of decisions are necessarily subjective. This is why so many moral systems get fuzzy. This fuzziness comes with the territory, unless you are invoking a preceptive morality that removes both the anxiety produced by the dilemma and the responsibility of the acting agent in one fell swoop, e.g., Ten Commandments. Under these conditions, moral tendencies are preempted or overwritten by the dictates of an authority, and as such, the situation’s objective foundation is replaced with an absolute rule to follow without question or concern. In this way, the moral context is lost. The acting agent has been successfully “demoralized” although we more commonly would say “dehumanized” or “objectified”.

    In other words, if you react to a moral dilemma preceptively, the moral dilemma itself is muted. You are not even acting morally, but rather, as a “conditioned” agent. But if you respond to a moral dilemma by allowing your moral tendencies to participate naturally, you necessarily are acting morally. From there, we can evaluate the consequences of the action as an additional barometer of moral assessment.

    Here, the antecedent is the presence of the moral tendency itself.

    My interpretation of the Matt (well-being) model:

    Well-being, not moral tendencies, is the foundation, one that, as Matt has explained many times, requires social agreement and as such, is necessarily subjective. From there, regardless of moral tendencies at play, the consequences of actions — even for dilemmas that by themselves are not moral quandaries, e.g., staying in touch would old friends — become moral actions because well-being is impacted. And because well-being is the agreed to goal, we can assess them objectively, i.e., one action can be better (for well-being) than another. However, because no moral tendencies are necessary (even if they are a given), the likert scale widens considerably from the Tracie model to include both moral and amoral actions.

    Here, the antecedent is well-being itself.

    Conclusion: Using well-being or moral tendencies as the moral foundation alter the spectrum of the moral landscape itself. Arguably, preceptive models can preclude moral considerations altogether, culminating with the rather peculiar disposition of the “demoralized” agent for which religion should not get a pass.

  17. Robink says

    I like the way Tracie differs from Matt in approaching morality from a rigorous definitional point of view, I think we need both view points, but I do agree her immediate resort to talking about tendencies in other species maybe has the undesired effect of talking past the callers. It’s obviously a subject which interests her very much, but maybe a bit removed from actual human experience to be a particularly good tool in explaining her point of view.

    What I did like was her talking about how following a set of rules because you’re scared of the consequences or want a certain reward without exercising any judgement doesn’t constitute morality at all, something I’ve always harked on about.

    I also liked that Corey tried a different, more amiable tack this time before quickly resorting to his usual smug apologetics however Tracie didn’t play his game and took him at face value, politely and methodically debunking his points.

  18. Bluestar says

    “And what is good Phaedrus, and what is not good”. Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?” —— Plato

  19. Monocle Smile says

    Plato seems to be implying that moral behavior is simply obvious and intuitive. He’s mostly wrong, because conflict wouldn’t be a thing if he was right.

  20. tprc62 says

    I have to say that I like the approach Tracie takes to morality. The most important point you can make is that morality is not some special trait granted to humans. Morality in humans has been greatly affected by evolution, just like any other trait you might discuss, like teeth or five fingers.

    Humans were apparently more successful(in the reproductive sense) when they operated in groups, so they evolved behaviors that helped in social living. These evolved behaviors weren’t good or bad, they just worked. Some behaviors, like empathy, are helpful today. And some of these behaviors, like the in-group/out-group antipathy we are fighting even today, are not very helpful in a modern culture. And what do you know, related social species(dogs, apes) also display some of the same behaviors(i.e. empathy, fairness).

    Humans have, of course, created new, additional moral codes, built upon the same base already supplied by human evolution. And sometimes these additional moral codes are utter crap(i.e. Exodus 21).

    Like every other explanation for why things are the way they are, over the last 500 years, its naturalism: 50,000,000, theism: 0

  21. says

    For those whose interests were also piqued by her spa-holiday story with spiritual-not-religious people becoming more religious. There is this podcast (The Religious Studies Project) and they had an episode out today titled: “Ecospirituality, Gender, and Nature”, see here:: It was an interview with a researcher who studied these new religious movements, specifically the type Tracie talked about. It was very interesting! If you even found Tracie’s story remotely interesting, I strongly urge you to listen to that episode that goes a bit more in depth.

    Thanks for this blog and the community 🙂

  22. bluestar says

    Perhaps, but on some level, moral behavior is intuitive albeit not obvious. An infant doesn’t display moral behavior. Just the opposite I think, the infant is very egocentric and I doubt even considers other people other than what it wants from them for it’s own needs. But we (well most of us 🙁 ) grow out of that and begin considering others…their well being, their feelings, etc. Much of this is taught to us or learned by our experiences, but I believe we are hard wired and biologically prepped to exhibit moral behavior. Not to the point of Plato’s question maybe but still intuitive.

  23. indianajones says

    @bluestar Your point doesn’t take into account the concept of enlightened self interest. If I am understanding you correctly.

  24. ironchops says

    When it comes to the subject of morality and guidance/ethics for individuals to determine what is or is not moral, then does the statement “do unto other as you would have them do unto you” good guidance?

  25. paxoll says

    Yes, we know humans have mirror neurons and reciprocity. So yes, for the most part people will treat you the same way you treat others. Karma is just the law of averages catching up to people and why that moral axiom is in every culture.

  26. bluestar says

    No, enlightened self interest is involved although not mentioned. Does not this self interest spring from our experiences? But people apply the concept of enlightened self interest in immoral ways as well. Hence honor among thieves, Omerta, etc.

  27. Bill walker says

    “Uppity black girl”?
    I think assigning motives, especially racist ones, is inappropriate. What in the story indicated to you that race had anything at all to do with the principal’s decision?
    Secondly, principals answer to district administrators. District administrators answer to school boards. District administrators consult with the school board lawyers for guidance. District policy is not set by principals. Do you know what the district policy is with regard to sitting during the national anthem? You suggested that you would be in favor of firing the principal for what? Doing her job? It isn’t the principal’s job to decide what consequences apply to certain infractions of district policy. I think your comments were a knee jerk reaction reflecting you personal bias and disappointing on a show that is all about basing opinions on facts.

  28. har7613 says

    I just want to say it is the most powerful proof when Nobel Prize of Chemistry is awarded to the scientist who use evolution to help design new medicine for mankind. Not only that, they inspire others to use evolution to open area for the benefit of mankind. This is what science should do.

    Furthermore, It is a slap in face to creationists; those who promote intelligent design and those who said US education system need to teach both: evolution and intelligent design, as a choice for student or discussion. Who can use intelligent design to come up with new drugs to help human? I bet no one will ever do it and they never will! I hope no more people will call to say he/she has proof for ID.

    (Please forgive me and correct my English grammar before you post it because my mother tongue is not English. Thanks)

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