Wednesday, November 19, 2014
We know that the left likes to discount or even deny the moral difference between doing and allowing harm. "Social Justice" is the term they use to do this. Justice really has to do with harms one person does to another; it is something like the state in which such harms are not done or are punished and corrected when they are done. "Social justice" is the state in which no one is well off while allowing anyone else to fare poorly, either everyone faring poorly or everyone faring equally well. This makes it an injustice a person to be wealthy while anyone is poor, making it irrelevant that the harm of poverty was not created by the wealthy person, making it his crime that he allows it, and thereby doing away with the moral relevance of the doing and allowing harm.
That's a big mistake. And here's why. Morality is such that grave injustices tend to override other moral considerations. To enslave or impoverish another person is a grave injustice. It would need remediation very urgently. Considerations of honesty, procedural justice, loyalty, and even the duty not to cause harm would tend not to stand up against it. The Underground Railroad was morally upright, after all. It was permissible to lie to free a slave, to be disloyal to free a slave, and even to do violence to a slave master who refused to free his slave. It is also permissible to take property from a wealthy person who has stolen it from someone else and thereby impoverished that person. Robin Hood is, after all, a hero, not a villain. This is all, at least roughly, as it should be. But when "social justice" replaces ordinary justice, we run into trouble. The left makes redistribution of wealth (from the wealthy who obtained their wealth fairly and to the poor who are poor through no one else's doing) more important than considerations of honesty, procedural justice, loyalty, and even the duty not to cause harm. This is why the left is dishonest, scoffs at the rule of law, shrugs at considerations of loyalty, and doesn't mind harming innocents in order to try to bring about an egalitarian society. This is how progressivism has been so destructive to American political life.
An aside: It's the true believers I'm referring to here. Some of the leaders are merely opportunistic kleptocrats or power-hungry narcissists who care not one whit about moral considerations. You can't always tell which kind of leftist you're dealing with. Barack Obama said that he didn't like the Constitution because it left out "positive rights" (another term for "social justice") and he is happy to violate the Constitution and to follow Jonathan Gruber's advice that Americans be lied to in order to get them to accept Obamacare. Wilson was happy to take political prisoners. FDR was happy to pack the SCOTUS with six more justices in order to get his New Deal control of people's economic lives. Are these true believers or merely opportunistic kleptocrats or power-hungry narcissists? Perhaps a mix of both, as the soul of man is complex.
I used corner cases in which it would be morally permissible for one person to force another person to help a third person who was in distress. You can imagine such a case. The one I gave went something like this. You see through a telescope that 100 yards away a small child is bleeding to death due to some accident. You cannot get to the child in time to save him because you can't move for whatever reason. A bystander is near the child but refuses to help him. You and the child plead with him, but he only shrugs. You have a sniper rifle and you are a marksman. You yell to the bystander, "Stop that child's bleeding or I will kill you." At this, the bystander complies. You've done nothing wrong.
This is a corner case. It is fun to think about, and it may even tell us something interesting about the moral duty of charity. What it does not do is anything at all to show that a government welfare net is justified. This is because it does nothing to overcome the prima facie case against concentrating enormous amounts of power in a few hands by law. In order to do that, you have to do more than put forward an odd corner case. For example, you might show that the power is necessary in order to save the very harmed by the concentration of power, as for, instance the founding fathers did when they argued for a powerful Commander in Chief of the U.S. military. But there is no such argument in the case of the welfare net. Moreover, a corner case does nothing to show that governmental power to enforce charitable duties would not, due to corruption and bureaucratic inertia, cause terrible injustices as side effects, injustices far outweighing the concerns of charitable welfare relief.
So, I was wrong and libertarians were right. I know of no good case for a federal governmental welfare net, given the urgent need to limit the power of the federal government and the capacity of private charity to address humanitarian needs.
Friday, January 03, 2014
More materialistic than most, I suppose. I propose it just for the sake of getting it on the table. I don't subscribe to it. Yet.
The position is easy enough to propose. There is a God. He is perfect and loves Man. One can have an intimate personal relationship with Him. He did not create the universe. No human being has a soul, but instead each is composed entirely of atoms and ceases to exist upon death. There is no heaven or hell, these being metaphors for the fate of living with or without a good personal relationship with God while one is alive. There is no injustice in the fact that there is no heaven for the good to go to after death or hell for the wicked to go to after death. God does no miracles.
That's the gist of it.
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Let some slapstick comedy flash before your mind momentarily and then, consider two ways of laughing at Man.
The first kind revels in his humiliation and destruction. It arises from frustration and resentment. It is nihilistic.
The second kind laughs at Man as a fool, a player in a comedy produced by God and meant for his entertainment, yet a a dear fool who must resolve to play his part to the best of his abilities and without taking himself too seriously.
It's important to know the difference. It's important to avoid the first kind and to indulge in the second.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
A "self-evident" proposition is one that is obviously true to anyone who understands it. These truths are self-evident:
1. To support a free market does not mean to oppose the regulation of commerce. On the contrary, the concept of a free market without the rule of law hardly makes any sense.
2. It is not theocratic to argue that abortion ought to be as illegal because it is the wrongful killing of a human being. The civil rights movement, as deeply Christian as much of it was, was not theocratic. It is not obvious that the current moral support for abortion is not as foolish and wrongheaded as the moral support for slavery was in the early 19th Century.
3. To argue that big government welfare destroys self-reliance and prosperity and makes national bankruptcy inevitable should not be confused with arguing that one should not offer assistance to the poor.
4. There is a wide array of values we have inherited: liberty, hard work, justice, limited government, courage, charity, involvement in civil society, etc. It makes no sense to raise equality in property above these values.
5. It is not clear that equality in property is ever preferable to liberty, hard work, team work, charity, and self-reliance. It is not clear what would count as a good reason to say that a society in which liberty, hard work, team work, charity, and self-reliance were flourishing would be even better if the the government decreased the achievement of those values so that equality in property could be increased. For this reason it is not clear that equality in property is even a value at all.
6. It is hypocritical for a wealthy person to maintain his great wealth while advocating equality in property and holding that it is unjust for some to be rich while others are poor.
7. To advocate a system in which a small group of leftwing leaders and their technocratic experts maintain enormous political power and wealth while they keep the overwhelming majority of people in society relatively powerless and poor is to advocate kleptocracy and totalitarianism, not to take any sort of moral stance at all.
8. Leftism and totalitarianism both advocate the government's having great control over individuals' economic endeavors and property. If all the preceding truths are self-evident, then it is not clear how a leftwing government can maintain power without controlling speech and thought in order to stop those truths from being communicated, explained, discussed, and understood. If that is true, it is not clear how a leftwing government can avoid full totalitarianism if it is to maintain power.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Yesterday, I received a letter from a health insurance company. It said that my policy would be cancelled in 2014 because it will not be acceptable under the new federal law. The deductible is too high, you see.
As we watch the debacle unfold, let us mull over alternatives. We could do some or all of the following:
1. Break up the hospital cartels. The feds break up other cartels and monopolies, but why not the hospital cartels?
2. Allow the purchase of health insurance across state lines. That this needs saying is deplorable.
3. Remove the coverage requirements placed on policies by state governments.
4. Encourage the purchase of actual major medical insurance instead of very low-deductible policies which are in effect pre-paid medical care services.
Monday, March 04, 2013
The mind does this when it turns in horror from the mirror, when it can't bear to look at itself. The deep tendency toward totalitarianism of people on the left is merely grotesquely exaggerated by Soviet government, rather than opposed by it. Right before this teacher's face are hoards of conservatives fighting the growth of government and the movement toward totalitarian control and espousing a return to limited government as stipulated by the U.S. Constitution. Yet, he cannot see.
This evening I was also told, yet again, that Americans conservatives wish to institute a kind of theocracy. What tangled webs we weave when we practice to deceive ourselves.
By "theodicy" I mean a theory intended to reconcile the fact that there is evil with the existence of God, the argument from evil being one of the most powerful arguments against the existence of God.
Consider this theodicy:
P1: It is psychologically impossible for any logically possible living being to understand the value of any possible world and feel appropriate gratitude for the existence of that world unless that world is tainted by severe and pervasive evil.It would follow from this that if [P2] the best possible world entails the possibility for living beings to understand the value of that world and to feel appropriate gratitude for it, then [C:] the best possible world must be tainted by severe and pervasive evil. As I have suggested in previous posts, the aforementioned understanding and gratitude is the point of meditation and prayer, and gratitude is a cardinal virtue. But, possibly, this gratitude cannot be achieved by any logically possible living being unless that living being must cope with severe and pervasive evil. In other words, no one, not even God, could design a living being which would have the psychological capacity to achieve it in a world of little or no evil. Whether or not the premises (P1 and P2) of this theodicy are true, the argument appears to be valid. Are the premises true?
Monday, November 19, 2012
Monday, November 05, 2012
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Monday, October 01, 2012
Monday, August 13, 2012
You know I've never met one person who is for sharing wealth who would ever share a dime. - Jane, a commenter at JOM.
Indeed. But why? Yuval Levin has a nice article in the latest NRDT in which he points out that progressivism includes the intent to eliminate civil society, which includes sharing the wealth via private charity. It does this by arguing that if you're in favor of sharing then you agree that the government should transfer wealth from the rich to the poor and take over all social functions held by the institutions of civil society, so as to ensure these functions are performed by law. Indeed, any function of civil society worth doing should be relinquished to the government to make sure it is done and made available to all, equitably. The civil society vanishes, and all that is left is the individual and the state, where the individual's entire life is reducible to functions of the state in which he partakes. He loses his individuality. He no longer can assemble a life of his choosing by piecing together those elements of the civil society which appeal particularly to his inclinations and talents. He does as he's told, just as everyone else does, by bureaucrats who do not know him.
So, the non sequitur "You're in favor of giving to the poor, so you must support the welfare state vision of progressivism" is not only a powerful tool to confuse muddle who aren't prepared to notice its fallacy but also a weapon wielded against civil society. "Sharing" has nothing to do with it, nor does welfare.
Moreover, civil institutions which individuals create reflect their values, are chosen by them, and are meaningful to them. They have the marks of very specific backgrounds from which they emerge. They reflect and contribute to ways of life which have a history. When these institutions are created by government they are generic and devoid of specific marks and reflect no ways of life at all, embody only a distant bureaucrat's values if any values at all, are chosen by few who want to partake of them, and are meaningful to no one. Meaning gone, all that is left are work, government, private pleasures and private prayer.
So, the government can't even take over the civil society and run it. The progressive's welfare state, in requiring the subsumption of civil institutions by government, requires the demise of the civil society. There isn't room for both in human life. They are competitors. The asymmetry in this competition is that a healthy civil society can tolerate a healthy and functioning government, one small in size, but a welfare state cannot tolerate a healthy and functioning civil society because a civil society that is small is not healthy or functioning. The welfare state must eliminate the civil society but civil society tolerates government (and even needs government.)
The larger the share of GDP the government has the smaller the civil society becomes. That's just math. You can't wriggle out of that. When you move up from 15% to 25% and beyond to larger government shares of the GDP, you begin to squeeze the institutions which make for meaningful lives out of existence. The same math which fiscally dooms the progressive budget also dooms civil society. You can print or borrow money for a while to cover up this math but sooner or later you must face it. The welfare state destroys civil society and also itself.
You can't have prosperity and poverty reduction while confiscating capital from private industry. You can't have enormous tax revenues while making it impossible to amass capital in private business. You can't maintain a welfare state while maintaining a rich civil society. Inasmuch as a healthy society requires prosperity and a functioning civil society, the progressive's welfare state is a mathematical and economic impossibility. This does not entail that there are no progressives do not realize this and earnestly wish for prosperity, the welfare state and civil society to coexist. But it does entail that the others are totalitarians and care nothing about anyone's welfare but their own.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
It's the argument that since a successful businessman required the assistance of others in the form of an infrastructure and a labor force, he is not entitled to the wealth he created for himself. It's as poor as all the other arguments for leftism.
We all get the infrastructure and labor force. They are an opportunity open for all to use. Some of us work hard and apply brains in using this infrastructure, creating wealth for themselves. Others do not.
Those with the wealth pay for most of the bill for the infrastructure and labor force. Others do not, many paying nothing at all for it, while still retaining the same opportunity to use them as anyone else.
The Marxists' latest attempt at argumentation falls into the catch-all category non sequitur. It simply doesn't follow from the fact that we all jointly provide the infrastructure and labor force that therefore the wealth someone creates by using these is not his property.
You and I create a street between our houses. Afterwards I create a taxi company and make a good living using it. Meanwhile, you play tiddly winks and gaze vacantly at me driving my cab up and down the street. We use the street about equally, and I pay almost all of the bills to fix the potholes. You express your envy. I suggest you create a cab company or use the street as a runway for a small airlines or teach roller skating lessons on the street or whatever. I even offer to hire you to drive my cab (meanwhile, I am employing your cousins who are enabled to support their families.) You say "Hmph!" and return to your tiddly winks. At the end of the year you send some men with guns to extract 50% of my earnings. They call themselves "IRS".
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
You've been hoodwinked for about 150 years.
People who covet absolute power need to trick you into giving it to them, unless they take it from you at gunpoint.
The most powerful trick in the book is to make you believe that they will protect you from being subjected to tyranny if you give them power and relinquish your independence and freedom.
I am on your side. I will protect you from the tyrants who only want to subject and enslave you, to hoodwink you out of the fruits of your labor and to deprive you of your prosperity. I need you to entrust to me the responsibility to provide for you and regulate your life so that they cannot harm you. This will be costly, so I need you to fund this endeavor. It will require enormous power, so I need you to allow me to have it. Together we can fight the good fight.Sound familiar? If you believe this propaganda, then you will oppose the alternative to increasing centralized government authority: liberty. You will take yourself to be doing this for the sake of liberty and in opposition to tyranny. You will propel a tyrant to power in the confused belief that this is the way to prevent tyranny.
There are two possible results. The first possibility is that of a powerful elite with enormous wealth and power ruling over impoverished and powerless masses. Sound familiar? It's the Old Regime. The second possibility is that in order to keep you hoodwinked the tyrants will have to pay you off so that you don't hit the skids so abruptly that you wake up from your confusion. But the money won't last and bankruptcy will come sooner or later. For Greece it comes sooner, with several U.S. states, the U.S. itself, and certain European countries making their way towards the precipice at various speeds.
Consider the various leftwing figures of the last 100 years, from the most brutal to the most effete and seemingly benign, from Stalin and Hitler to the various current American politicians of the left and their cronies. You will find only hard tyrants and soft. None has been on the side of liberty. The are the Old Regime of the last 1000 years. You have been hoodwinked.
The new regime is liberty. The Old Regime will not die easily and will even masquerade as the opponent of the Old Regime and the friend of liberty in order to secure its power. It's actually quite simple and easy to see through.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Big, unlimited government causes corruption in business and government to thrive. Heavy and byzantine regulation and taxation turn government into a crony-capitalist, fascistic, money-laundering operation. We're all familiar with this. This is the issue. If you're a liberal, you see this issue in terms of the rich being on the take and the poor getting left behind.
The error is to suppose that empowering government to fix this problem is a good idea. Government has caused the problem by being given too much power. Giving it more power only exacerbates the problem. And this is where we find ourselves: out of money and drowning in corruption.
Suppose you have a mafia gang in your neighborhood. It gets power and starts dealing influence and favors, stealing from the residents, and restricting liberty. The situation becomes very bad, with corruption, poverty, and economic decline. So, you hope to clean it up by calling for the mafia gang to get more power. This is an error.
There is a matter of luck at play. Our military has enormous power. Yet it is full of honorable people, just by our good luck. Our government has a fair amount of honorable people in it, but not nearly enough to counterbalance the dishonorable ones. If you empower a government body, you better be lucky enough to have that body peopled by honorable men. In the case of government outside of the military, you aren't so lucky. Stop making this mistake. Your luck isn't going to change.
The Founding Fathers wanted government to be restricted, hog-tied, and severely limited to enumerated powers, so it couldn't wreak havoc of the kind it is wreaking now, 200 years later. They knew we wouldn't be lucky. They knew there would be corruption. Please try to revisit this vision of government. It is correct. The progressive vision - the vision driving American federal and state government for the last 100 years - is an error. Please try to give up on the "But if we just..." reflex which drives you to suppose that there are governmental solutions to this problem. These solutions are 2000-page bills that feed the parasite that is killing you.
The choice is small, limited government or big, unlimited government. There is no third way. Big, unlimited government isn't the solution; it's the problem. If you can't see this, you'll keep making the same error over and over again. Please reconsider the Founding Fathers' vision.
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
The left is talking about social contract. The idea is that the rich didn't really earn their money alone. They earned it partly because they relied on workers and the government. So they should to give a lot more of the money to the government than they already do and the government will distribute the funds to the workers in the form of welfare payments.
Unfortunately, this argument works for the non-rich, too. They have houses and cars. They got these in part because there is a government and because there are rich people. Therefore, they need to give a lot more of their wealth to the government which will give it to the rich. Indeed, the argument is more robust when it runs in this direction because the non-rich contribute very little to tax revenue while the rich account for almost all of it. The argument, if sound, shows that the rich are exploiters of the non-rich and the non-rich are freeloaders. Indeed, it shows that both groups should pay far more in taxes than they do now.
So, the argument isn't sound. What went wrong? The argument is based on the idea that since an individual earns wealth in a social group, if it's a lot he owes more of that wealth to the group than he has already paid back to it. Always more. He always owes more. What's "a lot"? Who knows. The poor have houses, HVAC and cars. That's a lot. The premise is barely cogent, let alone a good basis for an argument. But when uttered emotionally by candidate the U.S. Senate such as Elizabeth Warren, it inspires voters. I'm sure she will win because Massachusetts residents will be moved by her emoting. In the hands of Gates and others it has inspired youngsters to "occupy" Wall Street and gripe about rich bankers, global warming and genetically engineered food. It's poppycock.
What would a good social contract require? Its justice would require that every adult who can work pay the same absolute amount in taxes. Since everyone is equal and everyone commonly enjoys the protections of government, everyone should pay the same absolute amount. Not only is progressive taxation unfair to the rich, but even a flat tax is unfair. The amounts paid in taxes by each individual should be absolutely the same.
There are two caveats to this principle. First, we may require a government that is too costly to be born if we stick closely to this principle of taxation. So, we may need to increase the tax requirements on the wealthy just enough to support a functioning government. This is a just caveat if we cannot in fact have a society without these increased payments. Second, a good social contract requires that when innocents fall into dire straits through no fault of their own, their fellows - family, members of their community, or the government as an instrument of the latter - come to their aid when it is reasonable to do so. Yet, this caveat may itself have a caveat that charity should not be entrusted to the government but left in private hands. So, this caveat does not by itself support the view that a good social contract requires a welfare state.
In any event, a reasonable concept of social contract implies limits on governmental power. When you have an unreasonable concept of social contract, you tend to overlook the wisdom of these limits.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Take account of the plethora of opportunities available to you; use your imagination. The liberty to be oneself is of unsurpassed preciousness. What threatens it is big government, criminals, poverty, war and similarly debilitating conditions in which a person or circumstances rule over a person, making him unable to fulfill himself in his life. This liberty is a crown jewel in Western political theory. It is an object of devotion in the eyes of the American Constitution. Imagination is funny, but a liberty from governmental, criminal and poverty-induced regimes of behavior are its siblings. They thrive together. One discovers a course for one's life which is among the best things one can do with one's liberty, in view of one's preferences, talents, and circumstances. (There is something deeply human and personal about the value of liberty, even though liberty itself is a pretty starkly simple concept.)
The free human spirit loves the imagination. It makes clear for that spirit which paths make sense. Imagination sees how things fit together under various scenarios, so that we can judge which path to prefer. It should go without saying that logic and empirical evidence are also important in choosing a path of action or way of life. But imagination lets you see. It is like the illustrations, figures, photos and other visual bits in a book, only it's not limited to the visual faculty alone.
You need to think through your own talents and where they might lead. What do you have to offer that people need? See whether you can imagine it. What would you prefer to do over the course of you life? See whether you can imagine that, as well. In each case, you need facts about people, inferential powers, and the imagination to project a way of dealing appropriately with the former.
There should be no holding you back if you can only get a good hold of yourself in that place, where you love yourself and feel powerful enough to be yourself splendidly because the circumstances are such that you are free. This is the key blessing of the American political system. The American people could cease to care about this only if they forget forget this. Don't forget it. Dig deep within yourself. You have a reservoir of talents and intelligence and drive to tap into. You must protect the political circumstances which protect your free exercise of the right to do so.
Kkeep close tabs on the facts about human beings and yourself in particular and the facts about your circumstances. See whether you can understand human nature generally and also your particular character and circumstances. The American dream is closely tied to reality. It is not unmoored but free.
Monday, February 21, 2011
I'm thinking of the political noun, such as it is, not the moral adjective which we use to describe actions. The political noun is rubbish at this point.
The term has been perverted through long use of a certain type, namely to denote the competitor to the leftist using the therm. This competitor could be law-and-order societies stamping down on the leftist's goal of disorder or violent revolution. Or it could be a another leftist organization competing for power with that of the speaker. It could be some people whom the leftist has targeted for plunder.
It is in these ways a speaker-relative term (where the speaker is a leftist.) What semantic connection it may have had to conservatism is now well trodden under by ambiguity. It's a severe ambiguity, with occasional incoherence between "my competitor" and "conservative." It puts Hitler in with the set of conservatives, which demonstrates that its shared meaning is absurd. It is now a semantically broken term and may as well be abandoned.
Friday, November 26, 2010
If you are interested in traveling to the site of LaFaro's death on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, July 6, 2011, please contact me via email (see my blogger profile for email address.) It would be good to pay tribute.
LaFaro changed jazz bass playing before he died at 25. Through his innovation, he made my life as a bass player immeasurably better. I can hear the melodies and harmonies that I want to play and I can play them because he showed me how. The least I can do is to lay some flowers at the site of the accident.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
The left loses every time on philosophical principles and on historical and economic facts. This is why they usually offer nothing more than imaginative and deranged expressions of antipathy towards conservatism. They can't disprove that Man has unalienable rights to liberty and property. They can't disprove that big government devolves into wasteful kleptocratic bureaucracy. They can't disprove that some ways of life are better and others worse. Because these things are demonstrably true. And yet the falsehood of these truisms is the core of leftist dogma.
If the core of your dogma were demonstrably false and yet you were unfailingly committed to it, you would be deranged, too.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
You actually believe this stuff:
FDR ended the Great Depression with extensive regulation and high spending.
Democrats care about the poor and non-whites, not corporations. Republicans care about corporations, not the poor or non-whites.
If you tax at lower rates, you get less revenue. If you raise taxes, you get more revenue.
Republicans are the party of No. They have no policy ideas.
Democrats pushed the Civil Rights Act through against Republican opposition.
Barack Obama is an intellectual who is very smart.
The Democrats under Reid, Pelosi and Obama saved us from sliding into a depression. The evidence is that they said so. That unemployment skyrocketed after their stimulus program - which they promised would reduce unemployment - is not evidence to the contrary.
Social Security and Medicare are great programs, not ponzi schemes. They just need to be funded properly with higher taxes on the wealthy.
The Democrats' spending will get us out of the recession. It's several trillion, and it's been two years with no results but we need to be patient.
It is not the case that the Secretary of the Treasury said this in 1939:
We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises ... After eight years of this Administration, we have just as much unemployment as when we started. ... And an enormous debt to boot!You actually believe all that crap. What the hell is the matter with you?
Friday, November 05, 2010
You're a leftist, not a liberal. Liberalism died 100 years ago.
Leftism is not so much a political philosophy as psychological attitude composed of a contempt for the poor and a hatred for conservatives. This is why it flourishes unencumbered by the facts of history and economics and by the lack of philosophical basis (cf. the conspicuous failure of Rawls's attempt at proof.)
Why would someone embrace such an impoverished political stance? Because of his discontent with himself, his lack of love for himself, and his envy of certain others: those who love themselves and flourish in this world as it is. For someone who is lost in these ways leftism provides an immediate semblance of complete moral redemption. The sickness - the contempt for the poor and hatred of conservatives - become sanctioned as the very redemption of the lost soul, the substance of his righteousness. They disguise themselves as pity and compassion for the poor and righteous moral indignation for conservatives, thus becoming psychologically almost impossible to overcome. This is why we have old, foolish leftists in their 50's and 60's or older, pathetically oblivious to their deplorable situation.
The poor become the tools of the leftist's political designs, the conservatives his political enemies.
If he is smart or ruthless, he will become one of the powerful. If neither smart nor ruthless, he will become one of their useful idiots.
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
The patient is in a stupor, the victim of a malicious poisoning.
He tries to wake up, his only chance at survival. Stirring, he opens his eyes - glazed, pleading, panicked, a fire burning deeply in each one, yet only partially focused on what lies before them. A leg jerks. A hand grasps. Some sounds are heard, sincere and urgent, yet garbled and muddled. The eyelids narrow once more, the pupils still gazing out from between them. The poison courses through the veins toward the heart, half of the body still, accepting, at peace. It won't be long. The throat emits moans, a fist clenches, the chest strains.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Your well-being depends upon fulfilling the values you hold dear, and this fulfillment depends upon your being in control of yourself. You must correct the beliefs, motives, and emotions which do not map appropriately to this set of values. This is the control of yourself which you must have.
Of course, mistakes will be made. You might change attitudes in a direction from bad to worse, such as when you move from over-eagerness about an endeavor that was good for you to depressive dejection about it and a mistaken belief that it is not worthwhile or possible for you.
Kekes raises the point that the ways of self-control are too varied to be distilled into one summary gist. In this regard, kinds of compatibilism other than his are mistaken for ignoring the variation in beliefs, emotions and motives which are the objects of self-control. Also, libertarianism is mistaken for denying that there is a satisfactory sense of self-control that does not appeal to a transcendence of the natural world and its laws. Hard determinists are incorrect in denying the reality of self-control. Kekes tries in this way to carve out a unique approach to the issue of the age-old question of free will.
there are peculiarities of your character to which you must pay attention in resolving the way to increased self-control. You have either mistaken beliefs, inappropriate emotions or conflicting motives which must be ferreted out and changed. There are no simple recipes for this.
The critical reflection upon your attitudes which enables you to increase control of yourself occurs within you. It has special significance for contributing to your well-being and not for existing outside the natural causal order. It has causes prior to it in your genetic makeup and your upbringing but these do not eliminate its importance. Therefore, Kekes's compatibilism is not committed to the standard objections which incompatibilists may raise. Also, his view is different from simpler forms of compatibilism in that it does not either equate freedom and responsibility to this critical reflection or reduce critical reflection to and specific formula.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
This is to say, while one is in the courting and childrearing age, to have sex with a person before deciding that he is a good marriage choice for oneself. Of course, it is a matter of consenting adults not harming anyone without his full understanding and enthusiastic concurrence. So, the way this act is wrong is by being a very bad choice for oneself, not by being a matter of harming another by doing something to him to which he hasn't given consent. Because this fact is not obvious, we can know that there are people being harmed due to their failure to understand the significance of this fact. If a man and woman have premarital sex, they harm themselves and harm each other.
Let's see if I can muster the case. There is a certain window in time when the human being searches for a mate. This window must not be wasted on a poor choices, which may occupy us for several years or even many years. While dating or being married to someone with whom one ought not to be married, one wastes precious years of the mate-choosing period. But engaging in premarital sex seals this deal. One begins a potential multi-year endeavor the likely success of which one has insufficient evidence. One hopes that the love and the depth and harmony of the interface of characters in a certain pair of lives will grow while one enjoys the sex. But it may not grow. One may find years gone and no satisfactory mating relationship.
Therefore, abstaining and waiting many years in which one searches for an appropriate mate and builds a relationship of depth may be the prudent way of looking for a mate. How else will one be able to ferret out the true characters of sufficient numbers of candidates by whom one finds oneself smitten? It's a roll of the dice unless one follows the contours of human nature as it in fact is. We do better abstaining from premarital sex because (a.) bringing sex in early in a relationship with a potential mate is consistent with bringing it in early with many poor mating relationships, and (b.) bringing sex in early radically elongates the duration of those poor relationships because we prefer fewer sexual partners when we are in mating mode. So, (b.) reminds that we don't want to hop from bed to bed every couple of weeks and we want a single, lengthy relationship. And (a.) reminds us that we are more likely to frustrate these preferences if we have premarital sex.
It's simple math: If you're going to go to the bedroom with someone, it better be someone one is well justified in preferring as a mate; otherwise, one either bed-hops amongst scores of mates or has a high risk of having some lengthy and unsatisfactory mating relationships.
This is a case against premarital sex. The wrongness of premarital sex is not piquant; it's subtle. It is less reprehensible than it might be if its wrongness were more obvious. And it's not a terrible wrong because it doesn't completely prevent anyone from having a good life. But it may indeed be a wrong to oneself and to others for the reasons I've given.
To put a finer point on it: One may end up unhappy, when the mating season is over and nature has closed its door, for having engaged in premarital sex. This normally involves having done things which brought others to this unhappy fate along with oneself. Premarital sex is a serious matter, though not a terrible wrong. It is like laziness, a vice which can seriously damage a life, but it's worse than that for it involves bringing another along with oneself.
Human nature doesn't make it only pleasant to do the right thing. It is rather less carefully designed than that. There are conflicting motives, dissatisfactions, such as the desire one has at age twenty for fulfilling sex. These dissatisfactions are not written out of the script; the script isn't that tight. Get your kids used to it and able to adapt to it. They might be more likely to find a fantastic spouse by age 25.
But while human nature isn't perfectly swimmingly easy to adapt to, one can increase one's ability to thrive under its set of dispositions. Doing so, one notices a certain ease increase and a struggle subside. This is where virtue and depth of character lie. The disposition to abstain from premarital sex may be included amongst the virtues.
I'm not sure that this case is sound. But it's the first case that has occurred to me in many years of thinking about the matter. I find it highly compelling. It may admit of exceptions, as the viciousness of laziness has exceptions under certain circumstances.
UPDATE: Clarification: If you sleep around, you aren't meeting likely mates but people who are interested in sleeping around. Some of these might be interested in doing both at once, and so may you. But you will be unlikely to make such a match, let alone one that is good marriage material. On the other hand, if you are having premarital sex with one person as boyfriend or girlfriend over time, then when you find out he or she is not an appropriate mate for you, it will be difficult to extricate yourself from the tangled web linking you together. They say that breaking up is hard to do, as Neal Sedaka said. You will hope things change into a wonderful engagement and marriage, but they won't. The other option is to shop for mates without having sex. Get to know candidates very well. This option has neither of the drawbacks of the of the two options which include premarital sex. It will take time, of course, but it will probably take less time and be more accurate in picking out an appropriate mate.
Friday, July 30, 2010
There is an enormous world of brute physical events and objects, having no significance or value in themselves and independently of what any conscious being thinks or desires. In this midst of this there is a tiny place we carve out in which events and things matter to us because we are beings who have preferences that things to go one way for us rather than another. There is no larger story. Death is the end for each of us. Some of us have undeservedly bad lives, and there is no balancing of the scales afterward. There is a set of values by which we can guide ourselves to fulfilling lives if we are in sufficient control.
Such is the secular view of the sort Kekes describes. If this seems unsatisfactory, then you are committed to the position that if there is no supernatural backdrop to the cruelty and contingency of life which redeems it for its shortcomings, then life is not worthwhile, there are no genuinely good lives worth aspiring to, and there is no right and wrong but only, as Euripides said, dreams of these things. This is an untenable position. It is conceals an inevitable commitment to despair.
However, religion, in its decent and good varieties, of which there are many, is a beautiful complement to life. And God, if he exists, would be disappointed in the covert commitment to despair. Look at it in this way. He loves you. He is in your heart. Upon death, you cease to exist.
A second point, about what I've called "Humean realism." It may also be called "subjective realism." Do not confuse it with Kekes view of moral facts, which we will endeavor to discern as we go. But to make it clear, consider the taste of sugar: sweet. It really is sweet, is it not? You might convince yourself otherwise as a freshman in Intro to Philosophy class, but only for a moment, and only with the giddy knowledge that you are playing with the facsimile of belief. Sugar is sweet. It has this property, as a matter of fact. Now, this property is not one it has independently of the subjective states of human beings and other animals, any more than "70 miles from Charlottesville" is a property Richmond has independently of Charlottesville. Similarly, the various moral values we hold dear are genuine and real, but they do not exist independently of the set of desires which beings like us have by nature and by cultural and individual persuasion. Think about these things a little more and you will begin to get an idea of subjective realism, at least of the variety I espouse.
We'll turn to Kekes's chapter two next, in which he fills in his picture of control.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
We continue our series of looks at John Kekes’s books. His A Case for Conservatism is required reading. You can tuck into the archives for other posts in this series. These posts aren’t reviews or summaries, although they briefly describe the books chapter by chapter. Rather, they are my own musings. This year On the Human Condition appeared. Let’s take a look.
Kekes thinks he needs to defend a secular view of the human condition, that is, to explain and defend the way in which we ought to conceive of human well-being and to do so without appealing to a supernatural realm. I disagree. I think there is no need to dwell on the secularity of a view of human welfare. One need only state and defend it. Critics may object that it suffers for leaving out the supernatural, and one may defend the view against them. In any event, Kekes does not dwell long in the beginning of the book. After distinguishing his view’s secularity from that of others, which assume the perfectibility of Man, the supremacy of science in human reasoning, or the universalism of moral judgment, he notes that any secular view must respond to the concern voiced by Euripides long ago that Man may be so completely tied by natural contingency to the chance or luck of physical forces and natural events, that to aspire for him to aspire to a good life may be delusional. In other words, either we have control over our lives and may fulfill our hopes or we are completely at the mercy of brute forces which have no intention at all of fulfilling them and may fulfill them only by chance.
The first step Kekes takes in the book is the break down this dilemma. We have a little control, and we may get more. There is no dilemma but only an opportunity for the individual to move from the one extreme of being at the mercy of luck toward the other extreme of complete control. The means of this progress are the large array of values which we inherit which enable us to choose lives suitable to producing our well-being, cooperation with others, success in competition with them, and the power to use practical reason to reflect upon the other means to determine how to refine them.
It is good that Kekes brings control, or, as he has called it in previous books, self-direction, to the foreground in the beginning of the book. Your best high-level strategy for improving your life is to try to increase your control. You ought to decide to do this if you have not. I decided to do this when I was about 13 years old, and the depth and happiness in which it has resulted in my life have been enormous. It is central. It is the lynchpin. You will have otherwise only luck to count on. Control entails determining a set of mutually consistent goals for your life which fit your aptitudes and inclinations well and then relentlessly putting these goals above less important concerns in your actions over time. This involves practical reasoning about which goals these are to be. It involves reflection on the large set of values you have inherited which enable you to do more than just to fulfill your basic animal needs. It involves disposing yourself to cooperate and compete well with others.
Naturally, this might seem for a moment like it goes without saying. But think for a moment about the many people you have witnessed in lack of control, in drift. This may include yourself.
Enough of that. One other point of interest: that for Kekes our values are fallible. You might find ones that are not good. These are values which do not get it right about us. He says,
Our values and attitudes are fallible and we continually revise them in the hope of making them less fallible. They are also unavoidably reflexive, because we are both the valuing and the attitude–forming subjects and the objects of our evaluations and attitudes. Our fallible and reflexive attitudes and our forever changing values are genuine characteristics of the law-governed world. Although we have made them and we are perpetuating them, they really do exist.Quite right. But there are questions to answer about this (tuck into the archives on this.) The status of moral facts is a tough nut to crack. The subjectivist position holds that these facts are not real. It is incorrect. The objective realist position holds that these facts are independent of human desires. It is incorrect. There is nothing that would count as evidence that the Manson murders, Stalin’s murder of millions of Ukrainians, or the whichever paradigmatic case of brutal evil you would like to summon from your local newspaper were not, as a matter of fact, very wrong. And there is nothing that would count as evidence that there is a set of determinations of right and wrong which hold true even though they are deeply abhorrent to and inconsistent with the various desires human beings have, the fulfillment of which makes their lives worth living to them. Subjectivism and objective realism, then, are both untenable. My own view, which you can find in the archives, is a revised and extended version of Humean realism. What is Kekes’s view? We shall see.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
Human nature being understood, and moral language being understood, one can make some observations.
Human beings are more likely to thrive under conditions of liberty. The chances of fulfilling a person's preferences by coercing him are much lower than his own chances of fulfilling his preferences by his own discovery of those preferences, decision as to how to fulfill them, and freely undertaking to act on his decisions. If his betters have wisdom on the matter he can seek it out by inquiring of them. If someone decides to control and coerce him, it will unlikely be his better and even if it is, it will unlikely be a man who could fulfill the preferences of his subjects as well as they could fulfill their preferences.
This is pretty close to self-evident. Anyone who understands human nature and history sees that this is so. This is part of the reason why it makes sense to say that it is self-evident that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.
The rest of the story is this. The terms of morality, "right," "just," "good," and so forth are defined in such a way that certain truths are self-evident, tautologies. "People have a right to the property they earn by labor." "People have a right to liberty." "People have a right to life." Also, "men are equal" in the sense that they are equal under the moral law is true because this is simply the statement that different moral evaluations require that there be relevant differences between the subjects of these different evaluations. If we judge person A's action to be permissible while person B's we judge to be impermissible, then we must be able to point to a morally relevant difference between their actions. In other words the concept of the moral law entails that all subject to it are equal under it. These truths are self-evident because there is nothing that would count as evidence that they were not truths. They are momentous tautologies subsisting at the core of the conceptual system of morality. Morality isn't about cheese or planets. It is about these things; they are the warp and woof of it.
This is why it is so that "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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Saturday, April 03, 2010
But to get back. I just have a few points about human nature.
Human nature includes a set of desires. These are wired in, with various degrees of intractability and malleability. The set is a cluster: a set with a set of sensible connections amongst its members. By “sensible” I mean reasonable, told in a cogent story, fulfilled in a way that can be explained, told as a fulfilling life. By “fulfilling” I mean a maximization of the fulfillment of the desires in this set.
The intractability and malleability: There are many conflicting possible lifestyles which human beings have selected and found fulfilling. The ascetic lifestyle and the life of the American middle-class family man are a pair of examples. Both can be fulfilling lives. This shows that a narrow and partial fulfillment of the set of desires may be found satisfactory, as well as a broader net fulfillment. The ascetic fulfills only a few desires, the family man many. On the other hand, there are varying degrees of likelihood of achieving a good life amongst these alternate paths. The lifestyle which fulfills only a few of the desires most intensely is less likely to be good. The drug addict, the astronaut who leaves earth alone forever to journey to another solar system, and the ascetic are less likely to have good lives than the family man who has his social life, his hobbies, his religion, his career, his health, etc. So, there is a human nature which constrains the range of possible good lives, even though that range is not narrow.
So, there are ways of life which fulfill human nature in various styles - subsets of the fulfillment of the larger set of desires. Each subset is a structured cluster which may be explained as a life which delighted its owner by fulfilling a large set of his desires in a delightful way. A subset of human desires which hangs together by mutually abetting each other’s fulfillment relies on a set of practices for just that particular fulfillment. This is a culture. Culture is an enormous source of good lives for human beings because it is a way of enabling human beings to fulfill their desires as a large set, including the benevolent ones and the sense of justice. This set of practices emanates from human experience through trial and error, through interaction with the set of desires which is human nature. (Notice that the drug addict, the astronaut who leaves society forever, and the ascetic need little of culture.)
If you make a plan for society, and you are not deeply wise about human nature, you will come up with ghastly austerities which contort our preferences. Top-down social planning requires a grasp of human nature. The rub is that human nature doesn’t mix well with top-down social planning. Such planning is therefore self-undermining. No one is wise enough to create a social plan for the fulfillment of human nature. No one is smart enough to create a culture worth preserving. The set of desires in human nature is too complicated.
Aiming to preserve a culture is a different matter. Naturally, one loves one's culture. It is good because it is a source of human fulfillment. It enables a person to fulfill a large set of his deeply held desires. It gives him pathways which will enable him to fulfill many of them. Naturally, a set of values needs to have mistakes ferreted out of it. But this is perfectly consistent with a devotion to its preservation. People are well-suited to recognizing good cultures, to improving them in small, piecemeal ways, and to preserving them by practicing them, advocating them, and passing them down to the next generation.
There is one more thing which we can see here and which is unfortunate. Those who like to partake in top-down social planning are not likely to be concerned with planning in a way consistent with human nature. Those who are so concerned are not likely to be interested in taking a role in government. In other words, the one who would control and plan society is more likely to be one who doesn't understand that he must let culture take the lead and not try to replace it with his plan. People who want power are usually like that. Human nature is suited to limited government. Societies are fortunate which promote to leadership people who do not wish to replace their society's culture.
As the Declaration of Independence says, we have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What this means is that human nature is such that a person's life cannot be good unless he is alive and is free enough to pursue the fulfillment of a large subset of the desires which make up human nature. Since it is self-evident to anyone who understands human nature and the concepts of right and wrong that human beings have a right to pursue good lives, it follows that human beings by nature have rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Notice that it is not strictly self-evident that we have those rights but follows self-evidently from a self-evident premise.)
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
You thought Sarah Palin was a ditzy broad when she said there would be death panels in the Democrats' health insurance bureaucracy. Why did you think that? Because she's pretty?
Anyway, there are death panels in the senate bill and Reid wrote them in there so that they can't be repealed without 67 votes.
He did? Let's see what Palin has to say about it.
But the bill raises taxes on everybody just as we are teetering on the brink of a depression. At least there's that.
You're being taken to the cleaners and you will be denied medical care. The joke's on you.
But go ahead and donate to the DNC and vote Democrat again. Follow your leaders, sheep.
Obama really did turn out to be an asshole, as I told you a year and a half ago. Oh, well, at least he's black. You'll vote for him against Palin in 2012. Otherwise, you'd be shamed by the other "progressives" in your little circle of friends. As stupid as you are, that's more important to you than avoiding getting ripped off, having your country's economy trashed, or being denied medical care.
UPDATE: It's teh kleptocracy, stupid.
UPDATE: Let's see, what's the name of the political system in which government strong-arms business, pays them off, and teams up with them to control the masses in anti-democratic fashion? Oh, yes, it's fascism. And of course, the socialists hate the fascists:
Moneyed interests "control" the Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lamented Tuesday.Wouldn't you hate your totalitarian competitors if you were a totalitarian? Oh, but he's still going to vote for the bill! LOL. These are your rulers. You elected them. August and noble statesmen to be taken seriously. Congratulations.
Sanders, the liberal independent senator, said that health insurance companies and drug manufacturers are getting too much out of the Senate healthcare bill, but said he'd still vote for it in order to extend coverage.
"The insurance companies are going to make out like bandits. The drug companies are going to make out like bandits,"
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
The question is: What gives the basis for conservative values? Why not pursue a fetish as the progressive does? Well, the progressive is really a tool of a kleptocrat, but leaving that aside, can't he quixotically pursue his ideology's fulfillment as reasonably as the conservative pursues the preservation of the large set of values which he cherishes?
The progressive usually bases his views in "reason," portraying conservatism as irrational bias, prejudice, or unreflectively dogmatic tradition. In fact, there is not the slightest reason underlying progressive ideology, as the finest attempt at justifying it, that of Rawls, failed miserably. But what is the basis for conservatism?
The basis is human nature. Yet, this citation is subject to the charge of dogmatism unless it is explained in a manner which shows it to be rational. "Because that is your nature" is not good enough.
The British sentimentalist tradition of Butler and Hume provides the basis for conservatism and human nature. Human nature is a set of desires which creatures like us are liable to have, and it delimits this set as distinct from desires which we are not likely to have. It implies certain institutions, traditions, and values because it renders these practically consistent with the fulfillment of our desires, whereas others are practically inconsistent with it.
Run through a list of time-honored values in your mind. Those are values which make it likely that we will fulfill our desires, whereas the rejection of those makes it unlikely that we will fulfill them. Run through a list of desires people naturally have. Now think of ones which people are not likely to have, such as cutting chunks of their flesh out of themselves, lying in utter torpor all day every day, avoiding the learning of language, preferring not to have liberty, etc. Of course, people do sometimes desire these things in unusual circumstances as means to fulfill another desire, as in the case of surgery in which flesh must be removed in order to fulfill the desire to live. So, what I'm asking you to do is to consider non-instrumental desires. It is obvious that some are natural and others are not, where by "natural" I mean nothing more than the likelihood of human beings' harboring these desires.
Of course, there is some flexibility and variation in human nature. There is a variety of possible cultures which allow for the fulfillment of desires natural to us. Streams of culture in ancient China, India and Greece are paradigmatic examples. People have flourished in these streams. Perhaps there is a ranking of the effectiveness of each in the order of flourishing, but that is beside the point. While there may be better and worse amongst good cultures, some cultures and values are obviously bad. Bad cultures do not allow for flourishing because they do not allow for people who are liable to have the desires we are liable to have to fulfill those desires. We should also note that the boundaries of a traditional stream of values are not rigid. The variation in human nature allows for individuals within one traditional stream to imagine new possibilities within it. Yet these boundaries are not absolutely permissive, constrained as they are by human nature.
The basis, then, is as the sentimentalists showed. There is nothing that we should count as a reason for a certain action other than that one desires to do it; and if an action is most fulfilling to one's desires then it is reasonable to do this action. What would you take as evidence that an action was reasonable to do even though it was not practically consistent with your set of desires? What would you take as evidence that it was not reasonable to do even though it was so fulfilling? Nothing. Conservatism sees high moral theory as anathema, and rightly so. Most such theory is nonsense used in progressive causes. But the sort of moral theory I'm laying out here maintains precisely that we should conserve our time-honored values because it is what we prefer to do and because they are ours. This is abundantly sufficient reason and No other reason can be necessary.
This is the rational basis of conservatism. It is human nature, which is a set of desires human beings are likely to have. "Human nature" here is not a meaningless term wielded by dogmatists but an empirically discoverable set of facts about what human beings are liable to desire. The rational basis, then, of conservatism is the close coupling of what one prefers - what is practically most consistent with one's desires - and what it is rational for one to do.
Leftism, fascism, progressivism, and so forth, are enamored of little bits of human nature, such as the desire for poverty relief, in utter neglect of all the other components of our nature. The are so obviously lacking in basis that one inspects for something else underlying them, which, as I've suggested a couple of posts below is kleptocracy. They are frauds. When a man stands to gain enormous power and wealth from you by titillating you with fulfillment of one or two of your desires - for example your desire to gratify your envy - you are about to be defrauded. If you haven't the character formed in traditions conservative of a large set of values which are able to fulfill a much larger set of your desires, you will not recognize the fraud. The drug addict, the Jim Jones cult follower, the alcoholic, the sex addict, and the kleptocrat's sheep are all characters stunted in formation, liable to fetishize only a few human desires and so unable to manage the fulfillment of the many desires whose fulfillment is necessary for good lives.
It's little-guy scientists against big oil $$$, right? Sure:
The Climate Industry: $79 billion so far – Trillions to come.You're getting taken to the cleaners. Oh, well. But you won't change your mind. Because you hate rich oil executives. And Americans who drive but SUVs. You prefer the style and emotion of your political views. The science and reasoning aren't really all that important to you. How's that going to work out for you?
UPDATE: Charlie Martin shows how to follow the money.