Saturday, December 21, 2002

Happy New Year

I’m gonna get on an airplane and take my boy Roland to see his grandparents. No blogging for a week.

I’ll be toasting you, dear readers, on New Year’s Eve. I think the beverage will be a fine gin martini. I hope you all have a Happy New Year. My life is better on account of you.

Wine Tip: Penfolds Hyland Shiraz (not their Shiraz/Cabernet blend). It’s from Australia. It’s delicious. Crimony, this is turning into friggin’ Vodkapundit.
Reproductive Cloning

Clones are in the news. Several groups claim to have cloned babies on the way. Now, there is nothing wrong with therapeutic/research cloning, as long as no brain tissue is created. Without brain tissue, nobody’s home. It's like experimenting with liver cells. But reproductive cloning is another matter.

There are loads of bad arguments against reproductive cloning. Read Greg Pence’s stuff to see them demolished. But I think reproductive cloning is wrong. Here’s my argument. “Mommy, why am I Daddy’s twin brother? Are you my sister-in-law or my mommy? Are grandma and grandpa my mommy and daddy? If so, then why don’t they spend much time with me? Is Daddy my daddy?”

To act in such a way that you cause it to be the case that someone has an unusually heavy burden to bear is wrong unless there is a good excuse. The excuse in the case of cloning is that one wants to reproduce oneself but cannot since one has no mate, or has a mate with whom one is infertile. It’s not a good enough excuse. Children naturally desire to be cared for by their biological parents and to have the biological family unit to grow up in. To cause it to be that a child has to do without is to put a severe burden on him. The burden of not being able to reproduce oneself is likely to be lighter, or at worst, of the same order. It’s tough to estimate degrees of suffering, but clearly, the kid’s suffering is not dwarfed by the suffering his “parent” would have had had he or she refrained from producing himself or herself. Infertility or failure to find a mate are not awful problems. The urge to reproduce is simply not that painful to thwart. To seek a drastic solution that disrupts the sociobiological fabric of a child’s world is foolhardy and selfish on the part of the one of the two "parents" who gains a twin and thereby manages to reproduce himself. The same holds for the use of sperm banks: Daddy as anonymous donor. Imagine confronting the fact that this is the nature of your father. Parents who skip out and leave their children are guilty of the same offense, even if a step-parent is waiting in the wings. We are biological, not artificial. (Of course, none of this is to say that it is not good for orphaned or abandoned children to have step-parents.)

Pence calls this argument mere “pop psychology”. Well, saying that it’s hurtful to abandon one’s family is also pop psychology. Are you going to put your money on the idea that children do not mind not having biological parents raise them? I’m not. This is the heart of conservatism: reasoned arguments for resisting change, arguments based upon sensible observations of human nature: observations of adopted kids who are damaged by the loss of their biological parents and long to find them, and observations of kids who, even with a step-parent filling in, are damaged by a parent's abandoning them when they were young. Pence argues that children simply need a loving home, and nothing more. Now, who is basing his theory on mere pop psychology? I think it is Pence. Maybe I have only 50% chance of being right, and Pence 50%. Are those the odds on which to toy with a child's psyche?

That the child wouldn’t exist at all if he weren’t cloned, and is therefore better off, since existing is better than not existing - this not a good argument. It can be reduced to absurdity when we consider the deaf lady who purposefully produced a deaf baby last year (she wanted a deaf baby), or someone who purposefully produces a baby with no arms. These actions are wrong. Again: It’s wrong to act in a way that causes it to be the case that someone innocent suffers an unusual burden. It matters not that that someone does not exist yet.

IVF reproduction is morally permissible, but that is not a good argument that cloning is therefore equally permissible. IVF does nothing to disrupt the fabric of the family. This is the heart of reactionary thinking: objecting to something, such as IVF, just because it’s not the same old way of doing things. But objecting to cloning needn’t be reactionary.

If it is easy enough to police, reproductive cloning should be illegal, and so should purposefully producing disabled babies. And so should sperm banks.

UPDATE: Don't want to let this go without saying: Anyone born by sperm banks or cloning has nothing at all to be ashamed of. There is nothing wrong such children. I'm arguing that the people that brought them into the world did wrong by them. This doesn't have the least tendency to imply that they are substandard in any form. The idea that they are is ridiculous.

Thursday, December 19, 2002


People who know me consider me peculiarly mild, even unflappable. But the truth is that inside I am horribly ill-tempered. I am an angry young man growing old. I am doomed to live the rest of my life with frequent fits of rage.

Yesterday, on the CBC news, the public radio station, they thought it worthwhile to interview a person about her opinion that Iraq should not be invaded because (1.) It is a very old and proud civilization, a Mesopotamian civilization begun by the Sumerians 4500 years ago and (2.) the U.S. has weapons of mass destruction, too, so it is fair for Iraq to have them.

Tonight the CBC television news felt it appropriate to interview someone who did not like a department store’s using live mannequins (women who model clothes in storefront windows by standing still) because it “is degrading to women.”

I just finished grading 60 papers written by college students. Half of these students are simply wasting time and money. They are uneducated and stupid, and they do not care. Don’t ask them to read the book or show up to class. Oh, they’ll read the book the night before a paper is due. They simply paraphrase and plagiarize the book, and this is called a “paper”. This is why I turned in my resignation from academia a couple months ago. I will not do this meaningless task for another 30 years.

A man on a call-in radio show: “I have children by two previous marriages, and I am fully involved in all of their lives.” I think he even believes this.

Reckless drivers and speeders kill plenty of two-year-olds every year. On tonight’s news it was reported that a man killed a two-year-old because he crashed right into a train while being distracted by his cell phone conversation.

In response to numerous student complaints that professors just assume that leftism is the right philosophy in college classes and fail to leave the question open to debate, a professor of English named Gravitt wrote this on a web message board:

“Some parents should send their children directly to church and skip college. This way they can ensure a proper message is being sent. Isn't this what they do in the Madrasa in Pakistan? It worked for Bin Laden, why won't it work for them.”

These things cause enormous fluxes of vitriol in my veins. I am doomed to this. A friend of mine, who spent his childhood under the Nazis and a communist authoritarian police state, consecutively, says things could be worse and that I should not be so ill-tempered. But I am doomed. I cannot change. This is my vice. I will take it to my grave. It will continue to cause unhappiness in me and, sometimes, in others.

The question is: How can one overcome vice? I suppose it depends on the vice. In my case, I think the answer is to try to remember, to reflect on the vast amount of good in the world. But how can one remember to do this often enough?

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

God of the Machine

...has poetry for us - in spades, as usual. There's something about a kind of variation in rhythm that Aaron can't express. I find it in jazz drumming, but I can't say what it is. I hear it, too, in mundane talk but shouldn't be surprised. Perhaps it's time's punctuations. Or not.
More Rawlsian Nonsense

I’ve blogged on this before, here and here. Now Harvard professor Michael Walzer gives us another eulogy to Rawls in the latest (Dec. 16) issue of the New Republic. He cuts the chase: “If Rawls is right, the meritocratic assumption should give way to a more generous stance toward those less favored by fortune and circumstance.” The fact that you are talented and work hard does not give you a right to the riches people heap on you in return for your products and services. Because it is just a matter of luck that you happen to have talent and a lack of sloth. Furthermore, that the market has paid you handsomely for your deeds does not show that your deserve the earnings because it was mere luck that the market happened to like your offerings. “That a market society values the skills some people happen to have is their good fortune....” You don’t have a right to what they paid you, because it was luck that they wanted to pay you so much. Therefore, you ought to pay and pay poor people until paying them more won’t help them anymore (i.e., the core Rawlsian principle: “the difference principle”). Even if they are lazy and stupid, you must give them their money back. After all, who can help being born lazy and stupid?

So, there are the premises of the greatest political philosophy the left has to offer: The fact that you are talented and hardworking is a matter of mere chance, and no one deserves the fruits of chance. But this is silly because of course you have a right to keep what you acquire by good luck. Who would think that someone who finds a gold nugget in no man’s land does not have a right to it? It’s also silly to say that the poor have a right to the money they paid you because it was merely luck that they decided to pay you. It wasn’t luck. You had what they wanted. They decided to pay you. Furthermore, it is incomprehensible to consider the having of an industrious character “lucky.” Whether you work hard is up to you; it’s not at all a matter of luck but totally under your control.

All three basic premises of Rawlsianism are silly. Who would accept such silly premises? Probably someone who didn’t realize that although the fruits of luck are not deserved, this fact does nothing to show that others deserve to have you give these fruits to them. Indeed, that fact would show that they do not deserve to to have you give them. For if they they acquire them from you, it is merely a matter of luck that they do so. After all, what we acquire is entirely a matter of luck, according to Rawlsianism. Therefore, no one deserves anything at all. Rawlsianism is incoherent. Like any philosophy in the Marxist tradition, it does away with rights as mere products of cultural bias and then tries to reconstruct them. But once they’re gone, you can’t derive them from empty logic chopping the way Rawls does. Rawlsianism is therefore sophistry. It does away with morality (with the “veil of ignorance” and the “original position”) and tries to recreate it out of nothing. Of course, you can’t do that, and since what we get is leftism, one has to assume that all the hand waving is just a distraction away from leftist assumptions being smuggled in: No one has a right to anything, but poor people have a right to most of your money. What we acquire is a matter of luck, except when the government is redistributing from rich to poor, and then it’s moral, genuine, intentional action. At bottom, we have decided to respect people’s rights to what they acquire by luck. It's unseemly to whine about others' good luck. It's a mark of envy and a failure of courage and self-reliance. Rawls wants us to stop allowing people to keep the fruits of their good luck, to stop respecting private property, and to stop placing value on self-reliance. (Go here again.) But he offers us no reason to make this change.

Considered by the academic establishment as one of the greatest political philosophers of all times. Harvard. Dozens, probably hundreds, of Ph.D. dissertations on Rawls. Thousands of articles and books. Untold human energy wasted on silliness, sophistry, and nonsense. What could that man have accomplished had he set his sights on solving a genuine problem instead of trying to spin a web of sophistry? Walzer is at Harvard, having written his Ph.D. dissertation on Rawls. None of these emperors has any clothes.

Monday, December 16, 2002

One Good Turn

...meditates on friendship and Lott. Go here.
Torturing Enemy Captives

Apparently, one isn’t supposed to torture people. I got yelled at for saying that any members of al Qaeda in custody and suspected to have valuable information should be tortured for it. But there is an idea is that there are certain things one doesn’t do to other human beings under any circumstances. The rules are (1.) Don’t kill innocents as a means of defending yourself in war (e.g., Dresden, Hiroshima) and (2.) Never torture anyone. Supposedly, a human being of moral character will not do these things, even if the external circumstances seem to justify otherwise.

Consider the case of a man who has planted a nuclear time-bomb in a large American city. We have him in custody, and he refuses to say where the bomb is. If the case were different, and he were about to trigger the bomb manually by flipping a switch, it would be permissible for us to use force, even lethal force, if this were necessary in order to stop him. But if torture is always ruled out, then in the case in which he is in custody having set a timer, torturing him in order to stop him from completing his scheme would be wrong. Since he has used a timer, he doesn’t need to flip the switch. We must let him accomplish his murder. So the argument goes.

I don’t accept that. If it is permissible to kill a man to stop him from murdering thousands, then it is permissible to torture him in order to do the same thing; death is worse than being tortured. If that is right, then it is permissible to torture terrorists in captivity for information about future terrorist attacks. The future attacks are projects that the terrorists in captivity have contributed to, just like the man who has planted the bomb. There is no relevant difference. Neither can continue to contribute to the terrorism, but both have set their respective terrorist attacks in motion. So, the only counterargument to the case for tortuing al Qaeda in captivity is that torturing them is inconsistent with being a kind, just, and compassionate human being. I don’t buy that premise. Torture of a helpless terrorist in captivity is an act of self-defense like any other. Furthermore, it is even wrong not to torture them for information, if doing so is permissible and might save thousands of innocent lives. Besides, you could play this game recklessly and say that it is impermissible to do surgery on innocent people because cutting people open is inconsistent with being a kind, just, and compassionate human being. But that would be silly. For me, the fact that it is okay to kill a terrorist to stop him means that it is okay to torture a terrorist for information about how to stop the conspiracy to which he has contributed. (By the way, keep in mind that there are methods of torture that do no damage to the body.)

I guess this is rapidly becoming the lose-your-humanity blog. Or do you lose your humanity when you let thousands of American children be butchered on the grounds that you don’t want to dirty your pristine character? Do you realize that al Qaeda in captivity might have valuable information but we are not allowed to torture them for it? Are you happy with that? Moral high road? Dead American children by the thousands? Cowardice? Courage? Can you tell which is which?

This is not a joke. There are al Qaeda in custody. They are trying to kill us. We are not allowed to torture them for information. Many thousands of Americans may die because of the principle that torture is always wrong. Does that make us better than we would be if we tortured them? Or does it make us more cowardly and foolish?

Friday, December 13, 2002

Jimmy Carter: Morally Deformed Human Being

Lott's gaffe? Where is the media howling on this: He bangs nails on houses for poor people? He acts like Ghandi and MLK? Ha. This is what Carter says:

"One of the key factors that arouses intense feelings of animosity in the world is the festering problem in the Holy Land, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the inability of Israel to live in peace with its neighbours.

"I think this is the single most disturbing element in animosities and misunderstandings and hatred and even violence in the world.

"I think that is an exacerbating factor in dividing people, not only in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, but also throughout the world."

Yeah, those Jews can't seem to get along with people. What's the matter with them? They are the cause of the world's problems today. The poor Arabs have been oppressed by Jews now for over fifty years. Maybe a final solution is in order. Arabs wouldn't have bombed the WTC if Jews weren't so greedy.

I'm such a naive person. I trust people who act like Jesus or Ghandi. Now it turns out that Carter has a moral deficit. He is subhuman. Am I supposed to believe that he does not think of Arafat as fighting the good fight? Am I supposed to believe that he would not support a Final Solution? Why should I? Today I am ashamed to be an American because he was my president. Ship him off to Europe where they agree with him.

Link via David Foster.
A Quote

Richard Pipes (any relation? yes), in his history of the Russian Revolution, quotes Montaigne:

"There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to play the man well and properly...the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being." Michel de Montaigne (16th C.).

This isn't just political and social wisdom. There is a good life to be had by the individual who is conservative and realistic in this way. Accept what is and don't rail against the facts. All in all, the facts are good. Change what would be better off changed, but only as long as the change promises to have little effect on other things. Find that part of yourself that is ecstatically glad that there is this world (the one who comes out after a brush with death). I think that a continual discontentment was selected for in human beings, so that we would think about how to improve our lot. The gene is selfish; it drives us to distraction. Don't succumb to its pressure. Look at your life not as a predicament far from ideal but as a good opportunity to build something fine out of what you have.

The socio-political and the individual levels connect. The leftist discontents that Pipes writes about think of poor people as bereft of anything fine or worth living for. They see only injustices inflicted upon them by the Russian monarchy. Leftists in America believe that poor people have been cheated out of the possibility of good lives by the gap in wealth in America. This is to think that a human life with only adequate sustenance is not worth living. But looked at in a different way, lower-class lives are seen to be abundantly worth living. Any injustices inflicted upon them are seen, then, as local, particular, addressable by conservative jurisprudence, rather than as pervasive, all-encompassing, suffocating, and demanding of systemic upheaval. An individual can look at his life in this way, too. This acceptance of what is less than ideal is a tragic attitude; it is realistic, more sane, and conducive to personal fulfillment. The alternative is ill-temper, boredom, and depression. On the social level, the alternative is economic stagnation, oppression, paranoia, and violence.

These are ideas which college students and high school students are not often given to study. But they need these ideas.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Individualism, Self-Reliance, and Government

As John Jay Ray has said, individualism is a salutary value. I think it promotes self-reliance, and self-reliance is one of the most important values there is in America. Of a sudden, thoughts of leftists speaking of the values of interdependence arise in my mind. Several feminist professors portraying these as more female, more Asian, more holistic - better - values are imagined in my brain right now. But to get back: self-reliance both promotes the good of society and contributes to justice, as self-reliant people are less likely to abuse others. Individualism, which promotes self-reliance, also breeds problem-solving ingenuity. I think you can see Adam Smith’s invisible hand groping around here, as well.

In addition to individualistic government, it would be well also to cherish that way of government that conduces to various other virtues. But what is that way? John Adams said (c.1790) that the government could not straightforwardly make people virtuous. (Again, images of leftists, from Mao to various professors I have known, flit about in my brain, speaking of social engineering....) But a government could increase their virtue indirectly by enforcing justice. A people who can predict a level playing field will play hard and play fair. (Why play hard or fair if the game is rigged?) They will cultivate virtues of character in order to do this. Adams also recognized that classical education (Greek and Latin Classics, English literature, history and politics, math and science) also indirectly promotes virtue. These things contain the ideas out of which each of us can strive to fashion wisdom and prudence in ourselves. They show ways of life that are good, possibilities for fulfillment and character development amongst which each of us can find a way suited to himself.

What would a conservative of the sort that agrees with Adams and Ray have to say about American government? Is there a problem here?

Corporate welfare: unjust.

High levels of taxation, government waste: unjust.

Overly comfortable welfare programs: unjust, self-reliance inhibiting.

Education with lax standards and feeble curriculum.

Too much crime going unpunished.


Corporate welfare ought to stop.

Taxes ought to be lowered and government shrunk.

Government ought to do less for us. End social security. Make life hard? Yes. Then you value it. You don’t get bored and loosen your character for fun if life is hard and just.

There ought to be admissions exams for schools, and elite, mid-level, and general schools ought to be instituted. It is unjust not to recognize and promote hard work and merit amongst young students. More students should be flunked out. (They spend more time watching TV than they do studying. Have you seen the educational ethos in the Caribbean? Not every child gets into high school; they study hard.) Government assistance to university should end. University is about half nonsense and a waste of taxpayer money. Tenure should be abolished, and student admissions requirements raised drastically. About one-third of students today have no business in university. They ruin the institution and waste money.

Policing - well, do whatever Rudy Giuliani did. Catch them and lock them up.

But, then again, I’m pretty naive about policy matters. I’d be interested in hearing from you more knowledgeable people about these things.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Dead Enemy Innocents

I've blogged on this before: the question of the difference between killing enemy innocents because they are too near to the enemy army for us to avoid killing them when we defend ourselves against it and (2.) killing enemy innocents as a tactic, a means of weakening the enemy's resolve. I argued that there is no morally relevant difference. Bombing Dresden and Hiroshima were as permissible as causing collateral deaths.

Thomas Nagel says that the tactical killing of innocents is always wrong, even though collateral killing is not. His reason is that "we may not aim to kill a harmless person." There is a morally relevant difference between the two kinds of killing of enemy innocents in "the attitudes they express toward human life." This would make the bombing of Hiroshima wrong. It would mean that we should have invaded Japan the hard way, taking thousands of American casualties.

But I don't know why we are supposed to sacrifice our own innocent people for the sake of expressing a nice attitude. As Nagel points out, the innocent victim is just as dead in either case. How can the mere desire, attitude, or aim of the person killing him make it okay to kill him? I don't understand, and Nagel gives no argument. And although he says that tactical killing does not express enough reverence for human life, why should we believe that? If President Truman agonized before deciding to drop the bomb on Hiroshima, then that was a tactical killing of innocents that did not represent a lack of reverence for human life. And if a soldier fighting an evil and aggressive military causes collateral killings innocents but does so with a bloodthirsty gusto, he would be said to act wrongly if we follow Nagel's principle. But he doesn't. He just has the wrong attitude.

There is no morally relevant difference between tactical and collateral killings of innocents when both are equally necessary to our self defense. Think of an enemy city with no military targets in it. Suppose that bombing the city would bring the enemy to its knees; it would simply be too afraid to fight on. On Nagel's view, we can't bomb it. So, we wait. Finally, we see that a crucial enemy battallion is passing through the city. On Nagel's view, now we may bomb it. Does that analysis of the situation seem plausible? Not to me. And without argument for the principle that one may never aim to kill an innocent, we don't have to accept it. (Suppose some poor guy had a large nuke in his body, enough to end the human race. It would be detonated by his heart beating 100 more times. Killing him would be the only way to save the human race. On Nagel's view, we mustn't kill him. Or is there an exception because he'll die either way? We'll why not more exceptions? Obviously, it's not all a matter of the attitude of the killer.)

It doesn't matter what the agent's attitude is when we are trying to figure out whether an action is right or wrong. If he has problematic or unsavory attitudes, we should advise him even when he's acted rightly. For his attitudes will eventually lead him to do wrong. Or if he does wrong but has the right attitudes, we should advise him, so that he can learn to act in accordance with those laudable attitudes. But the rightness or wrongness of his action does not depend on his attitudes.

The confusion underlying the distinction between tactical and collateral killing is that one thinks that in collateral killing one can say, "I didn't mean to kill the innocents; I was just trying to kill the soldiers." But this is untrue. You do mean to kill the innocents. You know you're going to kill them when you drop the bomb. You drop it. You mean to kill them. There is no hiding. Either it is right to kill enemy innocents in self defense or it isn't. One simply can't play games with tactical/collateral, nice attitude/callous attitude. There is no difference in the actions. Both are cases of killing enemy innocents in self defense. Nothing else is relevant.

Immanuel Kant really caused a lot of collateral confusion when he wrote his books. He said that the kind of intention was what determined the rightness of an act. That just isn't true.

This is why we don't torture al Qaeda for information. It's considered to show too cruel an attitude. And yet, you can kill them in the field. More on this later

Monday, December 09, 2002

John Adams on Equality

Adams was an egalitarian in that he believed everyone had a right to his property and to equal rights under the law. We all have equal liberty to act as we decide, a “self-determining power of an intellectual agent.” But Adams was no egalitarian in the leftist sense of that word. He believed that there ought not be equality in America. He believed that there ought to be an aristocracy. Some people ought to have more wealth and political power than others.

Would you be “a downright leveller?” Will you prefer “a community of property?” Strict egalitarianism is impossible. Some people are smarter, stronger, of better character, or even simply more cunning and treacherous than others, and they will upset any equality enforced by the government. Furthermore, allowing the better people to rise to the top in power and wealth is good for the country. We ought to allow the best people to take power. We can always vote out anyone who rises to the top by mere cunning or treachery. You wouldn’t want the “idle and profligate” to have as much control of the country as "George Washington," would you? Then let there be an elite group. Accept that sometimes the worse, the merely cunning and treacherous, gain power. But be thankful that usually they fail and the good and wise maintain power. Levelling would be far worse.

There is, therefore, a “natural aristocracy” in America, as in every country; some people are better by nature than others. In America, inequality is not enforced by law. We have, roughly, a meritocracy, enforced by democracy. For an “aristocrat” in Adams’s sense, is “anyone who can command or influence two votes; one besides his own.” It’s a matter of free choice whether others accede to his charisma. We are free to vote for whomever we like. We oughtn’t vote for a system of "levelling." It’s impossible; and it would be unwise even if it were possible. This Founding Father said that all Americans ought not to have equal political power. If he had been believed by Lenin, Mao, and the rest, hundred of millions of murders would have been avoided, as well as the misery that was the Soviet Union, too.

Here is an American conservative. You wouldn't find Adams praising the French Revolution and its Terror, as Jefferson did. More on Adams later on Philosoblog.

(Quotes from an 1814 letter; Adams at age 79)

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Truth in Ethical Debate

In engaging in ethical debates, including debates about political philosophy, we are, of course, interested in uncovering the truth, no matter what it turns out to be. The aim is not to persuade others to concede defeat and accept one's position. There is a fact of the matter about right and wrong, about good political philosophy and bad. Debate therefore is not properly the effort to persuade others to value what one does but to prove to them that they should.

However, the notion of objective moral facts is problematic, given that (as Hume demonstrated) morals are values, or attitudes, rather than facts. Still, error arises in two ways: (1.) when one's values are misinformed about the relevant facts (as, for example, when one is a socialist and believes socialism has no record of inefficiency, or when one supports slavery on the grounds that blacks aren't really people); or (2.) when one's values are incoherent (as for example, when one accepts that socialism is inefficient, values prosperity and supports socialism, or when one accepts that blacks are people, believes in universal rights to liberty, and supports slavery). The abortion debate concerns itself with the facts (whether the fetus is a person) and with coherence (whether an abortion is more like removing a cyst or evicting a squatter, or more like murdering one's neighbor). This is all there is to figuring out the right thing to do. There are facts, then, though these are generated by our shared attitudes. Debate is the effort to settle the objective question of whether a given value is or is not consistent with the relevant facts and with all of our other values. Whether to invade Iraq is another example: what are the facts about Iraq as a threat to other countries and to its people, and is our desire to avoid the human and financial costs of invasion strong enough to override our desire to avoid the risk Iraq poses.

The point, then, is to know when to admit that one is wrong. Moral debates are tricky because particularly impassioned. Passion tends to have more momentum that justification at times. It is good to remind oneself that at any time one should be prepared to admit that one was wrong if the evidence shows it. In their debates, conservatives must be prepared to embrace socialism, and socialists must be prepared to embrace free market liberty. If you find yourself in a debate with only the desire to prove the other wrong, you've gone 'round the bend. Take a step away and ask yourself whether you could be wrong. Did I ever do that when I thought about conservatives when I was 22? No, I did not. I simply hated them. I believed the wrong things for a long time. Debate takes modesty. It takes subordinating one's pride to what's true and good. But these are not things outside of one's own deepest values. On the contrary, the subordination is precisely to them. It should be easy to be ready to admit that one was wrong. Why would one want to cling to a value that runs against the larger set of values one holds dear?

It is therefore reader appreciation day at Philosoblog. Actually, it is every day, only you don't know it. I'm very grateful to you for reading this blog and taking me to task in the comments. We're after the truth here. I therefore toast you with this fine Canadian beer (Upper Canada Dark Ale)....ah!...there.

Thursday, December 05, 2002


Stumbling tongue has free chuckles for us today. I could add something like "The Prime Minister of Japan should stop treating the crisis as something that his subordinates should be expected to commit ritual self-disembowelment over," but I have a stumbling tongue.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Affirmative Action and Diversity

The Supreme Court has decided to look into this business. Let's take a brief look, too. By the way, I have been denied employment because I am white and not East Asian. If you see an ad that says, "Chinese Philosophy Professor Wanted," think twice. I'm a specialist in Chinese philosophy. I've lost out to competitors who knew little about Chinese philosophy but who were Chinese. Maybe your child is studying with one of those professors right now. That youngster is being miseducated. So, let us make inquiry.

First: Diversity. The idea behind some university admissions and hiring policies is that ethnic diversity is a value to weigh against individual merit when deciding whether to hire an employee or admit a student. Now, if diversity is a value, this is because it is either an end in itself or a means to some other value. But it's not an end in itself. Anybody who finds it intrinsically appealing to have a mix of ethnicities in a certain location simply has aesthetic tastes, not moral preferences. Whether there is an array of ethnically different genetic material in a certain location, rather than only one ethnicity of genetic material is morally irrelevant because genetic material, skin color, hair type, etc., are of no intrinsic moral significance.

So, diversity must be of instrumental value if it is of value. This instrumental value could be intellectual or socio-cultural. If the latter, then we're talking about the role model argument, the argument that unless an organization of accomplished people is ethnically representative of America, not all young people aspiring to be excellent will have role models to emulate. However, this would hold for short people, too. Short kids would need short people of accomplishment to look up to (sorry). Clearly, that is absurd, so the role model argument is worthless. The point is that ethnic minorities are perfectly capable of finding role models in people of any ethnicity, just as short people are capable of finding role models in people of any height. Am I being obtuse? Perhaps ethnicity has cultural trappings, such that the youth need to see how people from their ethnic culture are able to achieve excellence, while short people don't need short role models because shortness isn't cultural in any way. But the flaw of this idea is to fail to see that excellence in any career is an activity that must be abstracted away from any particular ethnicity if it is to be achieved. Excellence in business, physics, or the study of history has nothing to do with one's ethnicity. To think that a youth needs to see how a person of his own ethnicity does physics or business is an idea with no content. What he needs is to see how the activity is done precisely in the respects in which someone of any ethnicity can do it.

Is the value of diversity intellectual? No. Universities do not gain by having people of various ethnicities on campus. Hiring and admitting by ethnicity is a method that will always be improved upon by using individual intellectual merit as a measure. A university benefits intellectually from diversity of viewpoint and experience, but these are better tracked by hiring and admitting according to individual merit. If the premise is that diversity of thought and viewpoint will cause the mind to learn better, be smarter, and know more, then there is no point in hiring and admitting according to ethnicity when you can cut the chase and hire by individual merit. An analogy: If pigeon-toed people were thought to be better athletes, you'd still be better off recruiting a team by testing candidates' athletic abilities than by using pigeon-toedness as a guide. Two smart and well-educated white people will know more after four years than a pair consisting of a mediocre black student and a smart and well-educated white one. Individual excellence shows that a person has demonstrated the ability to find other viewpoints to evaluate. Besides, what wisdom is it that ethnic minorities bring to a campus that smart and well-educated whites don't get simply by living in America? If the whites hail from culturally sheltered and narrow-minded enclaves in America, and this is deleterious to their scholarly abilities, then this will show up in measures of their individual scholarly excellence. Narrow-mindedness won't get you far. Which do you think would produce better educated graduates: a less-than-excellent person of ethnicity X teaching college classes to less-than-excellent people of ethnicity X, or people of scholarly excellence teaching and studying the history, literature and social lives of ethnicity X in college classes?

What about affirmative action? The idea here is one of two things. It could be that poverty amongst minorites should be alleviated by giving them access to wealth via jobs and education. But it isn't clear what ethnicity has to do with it. Poverty amongst short people also should be alleviated by giving them access to wealth. However, short people don't stay in communities of their own in the way, for example, blacks or Hispanics do. So, maybe the idea is to inject wealth into their communities where there is so little opportunity. But this is a mistake. They can always leave their communities and go after opportunities elsewhere in the country. Anybody stupid enough not to know that is certainly too stupid to pass a college course. Besides, after getting their fancy jobs, the beneficiaries of affirmative action will be unlikely to return to live in the poor ghetto from which they came and create opportunities for others of their ethnicity. Moreover, this social engineering does damage to an institution of central importance in our society: our educational institution. Sacrificing educational excellence for the sake of poor people of a certain skin color makes this country worse: stupider and less educated. This is too great a sacrifice to make for poor people. Further, if the "poor" person we're talking about is able to pass college courses, then if he's poor, it's his fault. Affirmative action at university is like offering free tune-ups for people's cars. Anyone who owns a car is not poor enough to deserve a free tune-up. If you're a remotely plausible candidate for a position as professor or for admission to college, you don't need aid.

The other idea behind affirmative action is that it is payback. The white men have wealth and ability because of past injustices. Ethnic minorities and women are less skilled because of those past injustices. So, the white men should pay back by having to forego jobs which will be given instead to ethnic minorities and women. However, this argument is invalid. Present-day young women have not been victims of oppression. They are the offspring of men, so they are not victims of historical sexist injustices. Women are not one society that has been cheated by another. So, affirmative action should certainly exclude them.

What about payback for ethnic minorities? In the past, ethnic minorities were oppressed. But their descendants are not poor as a result. Poverty goes away after just a few years of intelligent and skilled hard work. If it stays for generations, then its cause is lack of intelligence, skill and hard work. But let us consider the handicap that comes from being Joe, the child of A, who suffered terrible injustice at the hands of B. The central premise of affirmative action is that B was able to provide his own child, Mary, with a little bit better opportunity because of the wealth he garnered by oppressing A. Mary is a better applicant for a job than Joe. Should an employer hire Joe, on the grounds that Joe would have been better? No. Mary should still be hired. Children should return property their parents have stolen and given to them, but it's difficult to see how the goods stolen from A are to exist in, or even account for, Mary's superiority to Joe. Her excellence is explained by her innate abilities and hard work, rather than by any opportunity resulting from her parent's unjust actions. Whites kept blacks down in the '40s and '50s. This didn't make white children richer as adults. It hamstrung the economy and thus constrained their accumulation of wealth. Mary has not profited from the harm done to Joe. Are there fewer applicants to compete with? No. If A hadn't been oppressed in the old days, he'd be hiring people now, too. By oppressing A, Mary's parent B has made her worse off. Besides, now it is fifty years later. Nobody's position is a result of economic conditions of fifty years ago. Poor people rise into the middle class all the time in America. Any pattern of poverty continuing in a family from the generation of 1950 until the present generation of twenty-year-olds is a result of household culture. And anyone can change his household's culture if he likes. No one deserves a handout because he was raised to be unskilled and lazy about education and work. To think that white slave masters account for anyone's character flaws today is obviously a mistake. Any undesireable character traits that are not genetically determined can be eliminated by the parent raising the child to avoid these flaws. I've got character flaws. I'm going to help my son avoid them. Do children have to have the same character and values as their parents? Of course not. The idea that ethnic minorities have character flaws resulting from the actions of whites many decades ago is absurd. The central claim of affirmative action, that unjust differences in parental wealth account for differences in qualifications of applicants today is false. Too many other factors are more important. And by now, we're not talking about parents but grandparents or even more distant ancestors. Those wrongdoings are ineffectual now.

Moreover, the idea that employers and society at large should pay for B's wrongdoings is also absurd. Affirmative action sees us as two groups: whites who are skilled applicants and employers, all of whom have ripped off blacks who are now applying for jobs and places in college. This is a distorted view of reality. There is only one group - Americans - and some of us harmed others of us in the past. In some cases harms were done by people of one ethnicity to people of the same ethnicity. There were murders, grand theft, assaults, etc. But those harms are not grounds for bias in favor of the grandkids of the victims now. That in other cases the ethnicities of the wrongdoer and the victim were different should not matter. Think about a poor white kid applying for a job. Now think about a poor black kid applying for a job. If you have a different gut feeling of guilt for the black one, then maybe that might make affirmative action seem justified to you: irrational guilt. Does anyone think that a poor white kid who can get into Penn State's engineering program but not Brown's deserves to be let into Brown's by affirmative action? No. This kid's going to be well-off. So, it shouldn't matter if he's black instead of white. Furthermore, many white youngsters are children of people who were either not in America during the oppressive periods of our history or who although present did not take part in the oppression. To deny them places in universities for which they pay tax just because they are white would be terribly unjust.

So, the Court should get rid of affirmative action. Or if they don't, then they ought to mandate that Irish and Jewish be ethnicities on the list. My people got stepped on a fair bit in history. I want payback.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Three Values

Here are three commonsense values:

1. One ought to promote the happiness of good people. The chief duty here is to give aid to miserable innocents who have encountered dire circumstances through no fault of their own. Once people get above that level and into positive territory, in which their lives count as good, then the duty to aid them is almost entirely cancelled. The mistake of leftist philosophy is to suppose that any gaps in happiness, or gaps in wealth, are inherently questionable. I've demonstrated before that gaps in wealth are not inherently unjust. The reason is that if, for example, person A is very rich, and person B is upper-middle class, then (unless one has harmed the other) there is no injustice in the gap between them. The gap doesn't even weigh at all in favor of concluding that their mutual standing is unjust. Therefore, no gap in wealth is inherently unjust. Injustice arises because of a gap only when those at the bottom are innocent and miserable and may be easily helped by those of wealth. Justice has nothing to do with gaps in wealth. It does have to do with not harming others and with giving assistance to miserable innocents. Where no one has injured another and no one is miserable, there is no injustice. Nevertheless, instituting a leftist political and economic system greatly impedes people's happiness, liberty and wealth accumulation. Leftism bungles this commonsense value of happiness by confusing it with talk about gaps.

2. One ought to be self-reliant. This is the duty not to be a burden on others. If you embrace this value fully, then you would not want to live in a lavish welfare state; you would not want rich Canadians to pay for your health care if you were a not-so-rich Canadian. You would hate to be such a burden on others. Harvard philosopher John Rawls has recently died (see the post below). According to Junius, Rawls was the greatest American of our time and will be studied as a great philosopher for generations to come. Rawls said that a disposition to be self-reliant was not a prerequisite for desert of wealth. For if you didn't know whether you were going to be a lazy and untalented person, you would choose a lavish welfare system, just in case you were. (Again, see the Rawls post below for details.) In addition, leftists, such as Rawls, value equal opportunity highly. But there is no injustice in a lack of equal opportunity. No one has a right to succeed, so no one has a right to an opportunity to succeed. (Though, of course, for one person to injure another so as to impede his opportunity is another story.) Thus, Rawlsian philosophy, like any leftism, is is a dereliction of a commonsense value. Rawls to me is one of the most important examples of the bankruptcy of contemporary academic philosophical ethics. No interesting, novel, and true moral philosophy has emerged from the academy in fifty years. Please correct me by naming an important and true moral theory if you can. It has crashed and burned in the philosophy journals. Common sense never has.

3. There are rights to property. These are rights not to give one's possessions to others, even those who need them more. There must be good reasons if these rights are to be overridden. There is no point in demanding justification for them. Questioning them is as worthwhile as wondering whether it really is wrong to torture innocents for fun. It's a matter of common sense.

What you can see from 1, 2 and 3 is that people ought to be left alone to fend for themselves in a free market economy, save their duties to act so as not to make themselves a burden on others and to act so as to help miserable innocents. This is conservative, moderate, commonsense philosophy.

Leftist moral theory, reigning in philosophy departments today, with the paradigm case of Rawls, seeks to undermine all three of these commonsense values. Leftism is therefore inherently radical. But there is an astonishing fact: There is no good argument for leftism. The reason is that no one has any idea how to ground a moral principle except by appealing to commonsense values. In the academy, leftist ethics professors claim that morality can be grounded on pure reason. Look out. That's nonsense talk. It comes from Immanuel Kant. Kant is upheld as a great philosopher by ethics professors today. The problem is that Kant's views, like Rawlsianism, have suffered repeated and devastating criticisms since he first proposed them (beginning with ol' Hegel). And yet Kant is a philosophical leader in the academy.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Apparently the behemoth computer at Haloscan has deleted a good number of my readers' excellent comments. Sorry. I've asked Haloscan to try to find them. UPDATE: Haloscan emailed me back five minutes later, and the problem seems to be fixed. Apparently it is true what they say: Haloscan is excellent. Can someone please tell me how they make a profit without charging me money?

Sunday, December 01, 2002

Hello. Please see "Not a Conservative at 20" below. Tonight, this:

Three Kinds of Libertarianism

Here are three kinds of libertarianism:

1. State minimalism. This is the view that we should strongly prefer smaller government. In other words, there has to be very good reason to give a power or function to the state instead of letting private mechanisms handle it. The primary reason is that the state is more likely to be incompetent at it. The opposite view is statism.

2. The view that there is a duty to help people in need.

3. The view that there is no such thing as an authority about ways of life, culture, aesthetics, or personal character development.

I've finally gotten John Jay Ray's message through my thick skull that #1 is distinct from the other two. I'm a libertarian in sense #1. Accepting #1 does not mean you have to be against minimal state-sponsored welfare programs if you are convinced that this is a case in which the bias against statism is overridden. I don't accept #2 or #3, and I favor a state-sponsored, austere, minimal welfare net, as well as some state sponsorship of arts (orchestras, museums, etc.). As you can see, someone on the authoritarian cultural right or the authoritarian left would strongly reject all three and go to the other extreme.

This sort of distinction making helps people on the right get their "big tent" in order by making it clear that the arguments amongst them are local and not global enough to cause the tent to be disastrously torn asunder. The next step is to make decisions about how to settle the differences politically.

Friday, November 29, 2002


Into the blogroll with Junius. He's defending Rawls against my criticisms (see the comments section on my Rawls post). His blog promises "egalitarian liberalism...and non-political-correctness" to which Moe of the Simpsons would surely respond, "Whaaaaa?!" (Don't worry, Philosoblog will stay a pop philosophy blog and will not become an arcane Rawls interpretation blog.)

Thursday, November 28, 2002

Not a Conservative at 20

Michael Blowhard wondered about why people don’t become conservative. The old saying is that “If you weren’t a liberal at 20, you didn’t have a heart. If you aren’t a conservative by 35, you don’t have a brain.” What are the details about the early half? Why is conservatism repellant to so many? I've argued in earlier posts that it is envy that makes people turn to the left; Michael has suggested perhaps it has to do with aesthetics. Now I think that the answer is "both, inextricably, at once."

Liberty and Moral Authority. Here is a simple error: that since people should have liberty to do as they like, to find ways of life that suit them and make them happy, therefore, there is no such thing as a moral authority, a person who, as a transmitter of established tradition, is wise and discriminating about ways of life. The idea that someone knows better offends the notion that oppression is wrong, that no one is the boss of anyone else. To subject one’s will to another is degrading to the modern sense of autonomy. A liberal is born whenever someone makes this error. For it is an error, given that the wrongness of oppressing and depriving people of liberty is fully consistent with the appropriateness of willingly submitting oneself to the traditional wisdom of those who are better. Some people are better than others. The rest of us should follow their lead, at least to some degree. (We should of course discover our own individual inclinations and preferences, as well, and prudently develop an idea of the right way of life by using both sources of guidance.) But let’s cut the chase.

Arrogance and Blue Blazers. Michael thinks aesthetics has a big role. (There were many posts on this on many blogs about a month ago.) The adolescent who has not been shown how to find fulfillment in any particular way of life looks upon the conservative role models; blue-blazer, khaki-slacks, and arrogance are all that he sees. They listen to violin music. What’s that? Oh, yes, “Classical.” They have nothing immediately gratifying in their aesthetic, either in their dress, their music, or their art. All is understated, because the conservative values aesthetic pleasures that require subtle attention. This requires uncommon ability on the part of the perceiver; it is a cultivated, acquired taste. It is better to be someone who can take these pleasures. The character, experience, and life, of such a one are finer than those of the hoi polloi. The conservative knows this and acknowledges it in body language, and sometimes, arrogantly, by directly stating his superiority. The adolescent finds nothing aesthetically gratifying in the conservative way but, noticing its arrogance and wealth, concludes that it is a sham.

The adolescent without direction suddenly gets direction: to prove the conservative to be effete, pretentious, and, even vacuous in his tastes. The young liberal will show that profoundly rich experiences are there to be had precisely by those who are not so controlled and discriminating. Sloth enters in; no one wants to work hard at achieving excellence of character. Of course, simple hedonism is not usually the goal; that would be patently absurd as a method of aesthetic one-upsmanship. So, the anti-establishment aesthetic is cast sometimes as a spiritual mysticism (usually Asian kinds, since those involve profound aesthetic experiences and ‘not making distinctions’), but usually as an avante garde, rule-breaking aesthetic elitism to rival that of the conservative establishment. From Duchamp to the Butthole Surfers, from the performance artist who had himself nailed to a VW to John Cage’s 4’33”, and from Naked Lunch to Black Flag, the jig is up. These are unquestioningly held to be several orders of magnitude greater in aesthetic profundity than traditional, conservative culture. This is the jaded cognition of the world-savvy, the one who has “seen through the charade” to the underlying reality, the one who is bored with the game and will toy with its rules, twisting them, distorting them, breaking them, in order to express his victory over his aesthetic rival, the conservative. In other words, the liberal makes his victory over the rival he envies precisely by desecrating the rules of the game. Victory is easy and swift. This is the meaning of “cool”. The new liberal does not sweat the distinctions between fine and uncouth; he is cool to them. He has a pleasure far beyond their league.

He scoffs, as well, at the middle-class, conservative masses located below the blue-blazered elite; they are the duped and mindless drones that make up the elite snobs’ army. In addition to the aesthetic and moral pretensions of the conservative elite, the liberal has also seen through the economic system designed to support these. He therefore feels himself in touch with the laborers and the disenfranchised poor, whom he views as closer to nature than the middle- and upper-class establishment. “At 20 to have a heart” because obviously the poor have miseries put upon them as a result of the scandalous pretensions of a blue-blazer aesthetic and the insidious age-old lie that the wealth required to finance this aesthetic ought by “rights” to left amongst those who are of nobility and worth. He is also a multiculturalist because he knows that distinctions of better and worse ways of life are mere tools of oppression, and that only one culture is lower than any other: the Western, conservative, elitist culture that denies this. He would therefore add economic egalitarianism to his agenda, alongside the aesthetic of the cool. All distinctions are to be exposed for the frauds they are, be they distinctions in character, culture or economic desert. And all this arises from a simple event in adolescence: humiliation and envy in the presence of the upturned nose and the blue blazer, the inability to face one’s own inadequacy in taste and moral character. By late adolescence the youngster was not made liable to take pleasure in truly fine activities, and he now realizes that the door to these is quickly closing. He rages against this fate and discovers a commonly followed escape route: revolution, progressivism, leftism: the only ideology according to which failure may be easily avoided and victory is at hand: the only ideology according to which personal fulfillment, and even membership in a bonafide elite group, can be had merely by getting hip, by simply having the guts and savvy to see through the game - personal adjustments which may be had in a matter of a particularly wild evening or, at worst, a month and a half of finding out how to “turn on and tune out”.

Adolescence finished, the liberal takes his place amongst those “working for change”: a nebulous goal which, as a utopianism, means little more than a prideful and narcissistic “not this culture, for I can find no personal fulfillment in it, and I am worthy of great fulfillment, of partaking of what is fine.” Therefore, the dispute over whether liberalism is motivated by envy or aesthetics is therefore settled by answering "both, inextricably, at once".

UPDATE: The connection John Jay Ray makes between authoritarianism and leftism can be detected here (N.B., I'm using "liberal" and "leftist" synonymously in this post, though I usually just use "leftist"). The liberal must have the government enforce economic equality and cultural non-judgmentalism (including multiculturalism) because this is the only way to make the situation seem to count as a victory for him over the conservatives. As long as there is a free market for wealth, morals, and aesthetics, the conservative will be shown to be the victor. The liberal therefore tends toward authoritarianism (and narcissism, as well). Ironically, what got the young liberal started on this unhealthy spiral was a libertarian suspicion of authority and respect for autonomy. This is why people don't often associate liberalism with authoritarianism. The confusion lies in the fact that early on it is moral, aesthetic, or cultural authority that the young liberal does not respect. He later develops a great appreciation for state authority. The two are consistent, in that the liberal's state is to enforce equality and the cessation of all distinctions, be they economic or moral. (N.B., This is why I don't like to use "liberal" but prefer "leftist". I've used "liberal" here because it is the term used in the old saying, "If you weren't a liberal...)

UPDATE: John has more on this (his area of expertise), and, in addition to correcting me in places, he gives us the locus classicus of the "old saying" I've been on about.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

Vile Display of Fascist Authoritarianism!

Cinderella urges delinking of a blog! This is an outrageous and unspeakably cynical move to crush freedom of speech! And the victim in this case appears to be not even a conscious being! A "bot" of some kind, like R. Robot! Um, the last time I checked, Cinderella, there was supposed to be freedom of speech. Maybe you didn't get the memo. And to grind a lowly robot under your jackbooted heel! Unconscionable!

UPDATE: Aaron jumps on the authoritarian bandwagon. My world is coming apart around me. I don't know where to turn. I can't trust anyone anymore.

UPDATE: I'm being threatened with delinking. Look at this email I got from "Can", obviously a bot: "You are an idiotarian. They did it. They finally did it. I fisk the idiotarian. Um, the last time I checked, terrorists were trying to take over this country. Maybe you didn't get the memo. I guess you prefer to provide foot massage to Babs or Alec Baldwin. If you do not delink R. Robot, I will delink you. Either you delink R. Robot or I delink you. They are fisking some idiotarian over at R. Robot's. Unless you delink R. Robot, I delink you."
Totalitarianism, Radical Progressivism, Fascism

Two items tonight:

1. The first thing is two pairs: One pair: Two letters to the editor in the Nov. 25 New Republic continue the leftist rant about Iraq: It’s all about oil, and the U.S. is taking itself to be above the law. Well, this seems to prove John Jay Ray’s point that leftism and fascism go hand in hand. Whatever the socialist authority - the UN - says, goes; whatever they say is law is therefore, by the very fact that they say it, just. The Authority can make no unjust law. And how dare the U.S. object that the law is immoral or bad for private interests! Determinations of justice will be posited by the authority and disobedience is not an option.

Another pair: Catherine MacKinnon, a professor at University of Michigan, said that she would disallow professors to teach that there are biologically based behavioral differences between men and women. Also in the news, in Iran teachers suffer anything from being barred from teaching to being sentenced to death if they questions the establishment’s values. Determinations of justice will be posited by the authority and disobedience is not an option.

Leftist, fascist, progressivist, reactionary - what’s the difference?

2. Cinderella has a nice post on historicism and radical progressivism. The post includes a speech by early 19th C. playwrite Georg Buechner. The speech contains the fundamental fallacy of radical progressivism:

"[A]ll are equal, ... therefore everyone should have advantages and none should have privileges, neither should there be a special or a lower or a higher class of individuals."

As John Adams pointed out, the fact that all men are created equal implies only that one should treat others in the same way unless there is a morally relevant reason not to do so. In other words, arbitrary and groundless distinctions in people's moral rights are unjust. (Examples: bigotry, fantasies about blue blood. In other words, if you let everyone be free except people with big feet, but you make exceptions for those amongst your group of friends with big feet, you're in violation of the principle of equality.) What this equality does not imply is that there should not be upper economic or social classes or advantages and privileges. It means only that anyone should be free to earn these things, either by hard work, talent, or luck. As Adams argued, a natural aristocracy will develop and we should accept this. The leftist doesn't understand any of this; he fails to distinguish the two kinds of equality. The result, as Cinderella's post shows, is often mass murder by fanatic revolutionaries. After all, shouldn't those who stand in the way of fundamental equality be cut down? The dead now number in the hundreds of millions.

"Determinations of justice will be posited by the authority and disobedience is not an option." Two paths: hundreds of millions of murders or a Lockean democratic republic. Locke said that there is a common-sense, natural morality, and we don't have to obey any government that violates it. Can you think of another path? I can't.

Monday, November 25, 2002

John Rawls

John Rawls has died. His argument for redistribution of wealth is the foremost defense of liberalism in academia. Let's take a look at the argument. Here it is, the pinnacle of 20th C. liberal philosophy of social justice:

Rawls argued that if you had to be born into any society without knowing at which level of wealth or with what sort of opportunity you would have, you would, if you were rational, pick a society with the following redistributive scheme:

The situation of those on the lowest rung of the ladder of wealth is to be made as good as possible. No one is allowed to get richer than anyone else unless allowing this helps those at the bottom.

In other words, it would be irrational to gamble with poverty. You might be born into a lifetime of poverty, so if you have your choice, you should choose the society with the richest poor people. It might be a society of no wealthy people, but so be it. It is irrational to take a chance on wealth when this means exposing yourself to a chance of worse poverty than necessary.

Now, since that is the society you should choose when you don't know how well-off you are going to be, it is the just society. Justice is impartial. You can't rest your decision about justice upon whether you are rich. Suppose that you knew that in the next moment were going to be reborn as a new baby, such that where you were going to end up on the ladder of wealth and opportunity were going to be a matter of pure chance. If you would say, "Hang on a moment. Can we first put in place the most generous welfare minimum possible? I really don't like gambling," then you do not believe your present society is a just one. You believe the rules of the game are not reasonable or impartial. You don't think the wealthy in your present society do unto the poor as they would have others do unto them if they were poor. You know that only a society with the most generous welfare minimum possible would be just. This is Rawls's argument for an extensive, elaborate, cradle-to-grave welfare state. The rich should give and give to the poor until giving more won't do any more good.

There are two devastating problems with the argument. First, it's not irrational to gamble. If you have a good chance at fantastic wealth, you might reasonably accept taking it, even if it entails a real chance of pretty bad poverty. Therefore, other societies are rational besides the large, liberal welfare state.

Second, the argument entails that the following society could be unjust if its poorest people could be made better off by further redistribution of wealth to the poor from the rich: a society in which the poorest people own nice houses and two cars, and other such middle or upper-middle class things. But it's silly to think that such a wealthy society would be unjust. So, Rawls's argument must be flawed. Again, the flaw is to think that it is irrational to desire to live in a society in which you might very well get rich but also might end up with only minimal welfare support. Rawls thought this would be foolish risk taking. But clearly he was wrong about that. In sum, Rawls failed to show that the rich ought to provide the poor more than a minimal welfare net.

There's more. We value self-reliance and property rights. I wouldn't want to be such a burden on the rich as to have them give me more and more money until giving me more wouldn't help me any more. The Rawlsian society is inconsistent with my values. There is nothing inconsistent or irrational about my values, so Rawls's argument does not refute them. Viewed in this light, Rawls's philosophy is seen for what it is: an artificial game-theoretic approach to justice that is neither here nor there. His abstract method would have us decide what's right by first leaving our moral values aside. But how are you supposed to decide what's right without applying your moral values? Rawls's project, like that of any Kantian, was destined to fail from the start.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan today said, "Although Rawls's writing never, to my mind, plumbed the psychological, spiritual and moral depths of the great political philosophers, his bold attempt to re-think liberalism from first premises reinvigorated political theory in the 1970s and became the basis for much valuable and intricate criticism...." Jacob Levy said, "Rawls created a common disciplinary discourse within which arguments could be had...." Levy quotes Robert Nozick regarding "Rawls' systematic vision" that shows "how beautiful a whole theory can be." These are supposed to be words of praise. To me they fall flat. No political philosophy of any value has emerged from the ivory tower in the late 20th C. Sullivan and Levy like "intricate criticism", "disciplinary discourse", and "beautiful systems". Millions in grant money and salaries have been poured into these. But what use have we for these things in the political forum? They are out of sync with common sense and ordinary values. Neither the House nor the Senate has any use for them. No novel and interestingly true theories in political philosophy have emerged from American academia in the last 50 years. (No? Name one.) If the theory isn't common sense, it's not worth following. If it's common sense, we don't need professors to "discover" it.

UPDATE: John Jay Ray posts on Rawls. "Rawls is simply irrelevant. He is popular in academe only because his conclusions are Leftist," says John. Yes, but he is also popular because he is thought to have given the idea of impartial, unbiased reasoning to political philosophy. "Therein lies the greatness of Rawls," says Richard Epstein. Huh? Impartial and unbiased reasoning, the golden rule and such, are not new to political philosophy. Even Epstein admits, "The great engine that drove Rawls's analysis was, like all great ideas, not uniquely his." So, what's going on here? Just ivory tower nonsense. How many angels can fit on the head of a pin? Get a guy with an IQ of 160, pay him to spend his life on that. You'll get ingenious results. Blah, blah, blah.

A Question

By now it has become apparent that anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism are normal in Europe and Arabia. This American Jew has a question for those people:

Are you living good lives, lives of freedom, mutual respect, and prosperity? We Americans, including the many American Jews, sure are.

Just asking. Okay, I admit it, I'm rubbing salt into the wounds of envy. But it's for your own good. If you think about that question and how to make the answer "yes," you might do yourself a lot of good! Yes, you might! So, stop farting around! Enough bed wetting and whining. There is no mommy or daddy. Get a culture, make a life for yourselves. Stop with your insane religion, your multi-culti nihilism, your bleak socialism, your radical chic, and your scapegoating. Good lives await you. You have a social disease. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps. Tell us to bugger off one last time, and then roll up your sleeves and get to building healthy societies.

This is metaethics, and it's not greatly important to life. It's only important to philosophers who stroll with their head in the clouds and fall down holes as a result! John Jay Ray posts on the nature of moral judgment today. He says judgments of right and wrong might be merely personal recommendations rather than statements of objective oughts.

David Hume demonstrated that there are no objective oughts. But still, moral judgments aren't personal recommendations. Moral judgments can be true or false, but recommendations can't. So, they can't be the same thing. I'd suggest that moral judgments are statements of shared recommendations, and more precisely, statements of what the majority in one's society all recommend when they're being consistent with their other recommendations and the relevant facts. And in order to be moral judgments, rather than culinary judgments, they have to be recommendations about the desirable balance of altruistic and self-interested desires.

John is right to connect this British sentimentalist view to conservatism. People who claim to have important objective judgments almost always want society to change radically. They claim that there is some way we ought to live even though we don't desire to live that way. Conservatives suggest that it makes good sense, and can't be wrong, for us to live as we prefer. You might object that cruel and oppressive ways of life are wrong even if preferred. But recall that what is in question is where to strike a coherent balance of altruistic and self-interested desires. Cruel and oppressive ways of life don't do that. There are many plausibly moral ways of life to be conservative about. Confucian conservatives prefer their way (and Mencius was a sentimentalist, by the way), while Westerners prefer theirs. There is no single, absolute, objective morality. Though this doesn't mean "anything goes" (it rules out slavery, Nazism, castrating little girls, and probably Islamic sharia), it does mean that we should be conservative and live as we prefer. Conservatism is the only rational way to live, as I've argued before. Prudential rationality is conservative in its very nature. To look for objective values independent of preference is probably delusional. Anyway, no one has ever come up with a plausible theory of what it would mean to be an "objective moral fact". (This doesn't mean you can't have a career at fine universities spilling more ink in utter ignorance of Hume's conclusive demonstration.)

(This gives us the reduction of ought to is: What we ought to do is the same as what it is that we coherently prefer to do, when coherent in our preferences, in line with the relevant facts, and have struck what counts as a balance between altruistic and self-interested desire. By the way, Hume famously said that you can't get an ought from an is, but also famously reduced morals to sentiment. How could this be? Well, the 'is' he had in mind was objective, desire-independent facts. Once you factor in desire, voila, reduction is at hand.)
Jonah has More

On Freedom. Scroll down to "more on freedom".

One question: The extent to which tradition and its representative authorities - be they person, books, or works of art - ought to be deferred to or heeded without full comprehension of their grounds. The next question is Which traditions and authorities ought to be heeded? Finally, there is the question of the extent to which the state ought to reinforce this authority. Clearly, all children in America ought to be required to go to school and to study history. Most Americans can't say why, but they still support this requirement. Should there be state funding of arts, such as symphonies and museums? If we elect representatives because they are wise (senators and presidents, the natural aristocracy John Adams spoke of), which cultural values should these representatives decide ought to be funded by the state? Or should they fund none and let the market decide? We all know what the market tends to support. Should kids be required to study Latin or Greek? They obviously should not be required to be Christian. People are often stupid and wicked, and stupid and wicked people should heed wise authorities. But governments are sometimes stupid and wicked, since they are made of people. So, there is some doubt about the extent to which we should empower government with authority. Nevertheless, unless anarchism is in principle correct, there is no reason to judge a priori that the state should not support cultural authority. Again, we all want kids to be required to learn history in school. So, the question now is where to draw the line.

Another question: Security v. liberty. We already have a large military and a police force under control of the government. These forces have not compelled our enslavement yet. Unless anarchism is in principle correct, there is no reason to judge a priori that the state should not go even further, for example, with the Homeland Security program. There is a real chance that St. Louis will be obliterated by a suitcase nuke. How real is the chance that the U.S. government will use recently installed surveillance techniques to enslave Americans? There is evil coming at us from Arabia, and there is potential evil in the U.S. government. This is a matter of risk management. The philosophical question has already been answered: anarchism, or strong libertarianism, is false. Only someone who advocates getting rid of the military and the police can coherently take issue with that. The question now is how far we should let the government go. To say that just on principle it should go no further is to refuse to offer an argument. We need to see the risk management details.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

A Rough Topology of Right and Wrong

The plethora of moral judgments that hold true in our modern, Western society cannot be systematized. No one has ever discovered any strict principles or rules that could not be easily debunked. Hobbes tried to reduce morality to self-interest; Kant tried to show that the golden rule (the “categorical imperative,” which he wrongly claimed was different from the golden rule) could tell you what was right in any case; and the utilitarians suggested that we simply do whatever promotes the most happiness. All went down in flames. As Aristotle said, moral life is too complex to be systematized or crammed into a finite list of rules.

But I can offer a bird’s eye view of our modern, Western morality, a sort of rough topology or description of its shape. In many cases, one has a right to act in his own self-interest. Also, everyone has a duty to sacrifice one's interests in order to help others in some cases. There is a restriction on harming; it is wrong to inflict harm in many cases. But, it is also wrong to allow harm in some cases. Finally, the degree of harm and self-interest at stake matters. Those are the features of the terrain. Now, what is the overall shape of the terrain?

You have no right to harm others, unless the harm to them is slight and the benefit you derive from it necessary to save yourself from great harm. For example, you may lean on someone’s shoulder without his permission, in order to get your balance and prevent yourself from falling off of a high balcony to your death. You’re not allowed to take wallets, however, or rob banks.

You ought to help others when they will otherwise suffer undeserved and severe harm and helping them will not be very costly to you. For example, you ought to call 911 and administer first aid if you see someone bleeding to death. But you have no duty to fund your neighbor’s college education.

In general, causing harm is permissible when it averts undeserved disaster, and helping others is obligatory when it averts undeserved disaster. In other cases, causing harm is wrong and helping others is not obligatory, because people have liberty and property rights, as well as a duty of self-reliance.

In other words, self-interested and altruistic desires take their shape in our morality as follows. The duty to aid others and the permissibility of harming them kick in when the balance of interests tips radically, such that aiding or harming will cost no one very much but help an innocent greatly. Otherwise, they don’t kick in. It’s wrong to cause grievous injury to an innocent, in order to save one’s own life. It’s permissible to let an innocent die, when the only way to save him is to sacrifice one’s health. Welfare nets should be minimal, not luxurious. Wealth should not be equalized; that would involve theft.

None of this is meant to be a rule-based system. It’s a rough topology of morality that will not help you solve any moral dilemmas. Once you descend from the bird’s eye view, the features of the moral terrain come into view in their vast complexity. We see that loved ones and friends may be treated differently from strangers, that manners count, and that projects shared amongst people can involve mutual fulfillment, as well as requiring altruistic desire. The complexities continue on from there.

This is the picture of altruism-based morality inherited from the British sentimentalists, such as Butler and Hume. Morality is a set of altruistic and self-interested desires widely shared in society and carefully shaped into a complex but coherent set by culture’s long history of experience. The task of figuring out the right thing to do is the task of deciding how the case in question fits into the topology of this set.
Abortion: An Odd Reductio Ad Absurdum

Nobody likes the killing of abortion doctors. Now, consider this. If abortion is murder, then the killing of these doctors is clearly justified. When it's a question of Nazi doctors vivisecting innocents, passive resistance is insufficient. Simply announcing one's objections in the strongest of terms won't cut it. On the contrary, there is a duty to take the law into one's own hands and kill Nazi doctors. Now, if abortion is murder, then abortion doctors aren't relevantly different from Nazi doctors. They ought to be killed if abortion is murder. The fact that our government protects them is no more relevant than the fact that Nazis protected Nazi doctors. It would be the murder of thousands of children we're talking about.

But obviously killing abortion doctors is wrong. Therefore, abortion is not murder. What this odd reductio shows is the following. The fact that we know killing abortion doctors is wrong shows that deep down we know that the fetus is not a person.

Friday, November 22, 2002

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg really outdid himself today. Conservatives take all our values and try to fufill them all as much as possible. Libertarians don't (and neither do leftists, I'd add). A must read.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

The Political Philosophy of Paul Wellstone

In a sense, Senator Wellstone was a conservative. Most of the time, he took the attitude that instead of radical upheaval, we should look for specific, evidentially demonstrable problems in the political system and rectify them by applying American values and law. But he was a liberal in that he devoted himself to the problems faced by the poor. He would use political power to bring the country's treatment of poor people in line with our values. This core vision therefore puts the Senator, on balance, slightly to the left of center.

The first point about the Senator's political philosophy is this: Poverty brings with it the lack of power to protect one's rights, rights established by our values and laws. When the poor are in dire need or being treated wrongfully by the rich, the problem goes overlooked and therefore unrectified. Some wealthy people succeed in perverting and impeding representative democracy and thus in preventing us from living up to our values. We should endeavor to change the structure of power in society so that it comes more in line with our values. This will be a matter of grass-roots organizations (such as tenant groups), unions, and public funding. The leaders of these groups should emerge from them democratically, rather than being outsiders claiming to have special leadership powers. The point is to inquire carefully into the overlooked facts about poverty and to survey our values and laws clearly. The goal is facts, truth, and correct application of American values and law. A progressive attitude towards changing the power structure in society is meant to accomplish this goal. This philosophy puts the Senator slightly to the left of center: conservative in the aforementioned sense, but progressive in a moderately leftist sense.

In brief, the Senator devoted his career to a simple value: that there was tremendous suffering amongst the poor, particularly amongst poor children, and that this suffering should be alleviated by grass-roots mustering of political power in order use power to bring government back in line with our values.

The second point about the Senator's philosophy is that there was a fallacy in it that moved it too far to the left. Wellstone was right that our core values commit us to redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor because of the undeserved misery amongst the poor. He inferred from this premise that as long as there was any such misery we should continue to redistribute the wealth with more government programs, such as socialized health care. This was a seductive inference indeed, given that if we have a duty to help the miserably poor, then it would seem that as long as there are still miserably poor people we haven't fulfilled our duty. What Wellstone wasn't able to see was that the duty of the wealthy is not necessarily to sacrifice as long as there is any undeserved misery amongst the poor. Their duty was to sacrifice substantially, and Americans had determined, according to their values, that they had already fulfilled this duty. In other words, the fact that you have a duty to help people in need does not prove that you ought to exhaust yourself until there are no more people in need; the burden of doing so might be too great. But Wellstone could see only the misery and not its practical ineradicability. He couldn't reconcile himself to the fact that ending misery was a practical impossibility or, at least, would hamstring the American economy in ways unacceptable to American values.

The Senator might have devoted his career and enormous energy to streamlining the welfare programs already in place by making them more effective at the same cost. This would have kept his politics moderately to the left. In this sense, the fallacy in his philosophy was somewhat tragic. Twelve years devoted to streamlining welfare programs would have served American values, both moderate left and moderate right. But the urgency he felt about the miserably poor kept him from taking this more judicious stance.

In spite of the fallacy, Wellstone was intellectually honest. He knew that the point of the political forum was to argue about what American values entailed when rendered coherent and in line with the facts. He didn't think, as Plato, Lenin, and Mao did, that he knew better and ought to impose his special knowledge of justice on others too stupid to grasp it. He would argue, and he would stick to grass-roots democracy. He was motivated neither by hatred nor envy. He was motivated by benevolence, reason, and democracy. He was a true-blue American liberal.

[Paul Wellstone's books: How the Rural Poor Got Power (1978) and The Conscience of a Liberal (2002)]

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Zen Buddhism


Bigwig's got the Carnival on again over at Blogcritics. Check it out.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

The Leftist Cooperation Argument

John Jay Ray posts today about an email he received from a leftist. The topic is the often heard argument that the wealthy should be willing to redistribute wealth to the unwealthy (those below upper-middle class), on the grounds that society is a cooperative enterprise. Without the unwealthy, the wealthy would not be able to become wealthy. A workforce is needed, a monetary system, an infrastructure, etc. In other words, you can live high off the hog, but only because there is an elaborate society, and any elaborate society requires laborers. These people deserve payment, a fair share of the take. Fully fledged egalitarian leftists would say that everyone should have the same amount of wealth. In any event, this is the cooperation argument in favor of leftist economic justice.

It seems like a seductive argument. But it's little more than a thinly veiled threat. For an unwealthy person to say that he deserves a bigger piece of the pie because he makes society possible is tantamount to his threatening to rebel, to undermine society. The unwealthy participate in society of their own volition. They could leave or commit suicide. Since no one is forced to contribute to society, the cooperation argument is spurious. There are no grounds to complain about the contract if you are always free to leave. The contract says that we are going to work together to create society, and luck, skill, and market forces will determine outcomes. The cooperation argument merely threatens to disrupt this endeavor, to return society to the Hobbesian state of war, unless the terms "luck, skill, and market forces" are stricken.

Maybe I'm being uncharitable to the cooperation argument. However, if it's not a mere threat, then the argument merely says that anyone who contributes to society deserves a comparable share to anyone else. But there is no good reason to accept this premise.

There ought to be a minimal welfare net for those unable to support themselves. After that, it should be a free-for-all.

Monday, November 18, 2002

Locke was No Libertarian

People often think of Locke as a libertarian. They see him as the one who proposed that the state’s purpose was merely to protect the property of the people from seizure and that the state had no right to seize the property of any citizen against his will. Neither of these things is the case.

Locke believed that the state’s role was to act according to its determinations of moral rights and duties. But one of the moral duties of every person who had plenty was to help others who could not sustain themselves. He said of every citizen, “[W]hen his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind” (Second Treatise, #6). Therefore, if the state were to tax the wealthy in order to distribute wealth to those unable to sustain themselves, this would be an appropriate determination of moral rights and duties. Locke would thus have supported mandatory taxation for a welfare net.

Consent of the governed was required for taxation, but this is merely democratic, majoritarian consent. According to Locke, by living in a society, one gave one’s consent to acquiesce to the majority’s determinations of moral rights and duties to be enforced by the state. Therefore, if the minority did not like to pay tax for a welfare net, this would be irrelevant to the matter. The taxation would be just.

Locke certainly championed the rights of the people not to have their property taken by the government against their will. The Founding Fathers based their justification of the American Revolution on his reasoning. But the idea was merely that it isn’t true that whatever the state says is righteous confiscation of property is so. The idea wasn’t that the state mustn’t take your property unless you give your okay or unless they are going to use the funds to protect your proptery. In addition, commonsense moral principles and majority rule were constraints on the right of the state to tax. And one of the commonsense moral principles he had in mind was that one ought to sacrifice for those unable to sustain themselves. Thus, Locke’s idea would support taxation for welfare. Locke was no libertarian.

Sunday, November 17, 2002

Why Vote?

You might have noticed that it is not in your interest to vote. There is only a negligible chance that your vote will matter; rarely are elections won by one vote. So, voting will be highly unlikely to make any difference to whether your favored candidate wins. Voting is therefore irrational if only self-interest is taken into account.

The reason to vote is that it is your duty. We all have a duty to learn about the issues and the candidates, make a considered choice of the best candidate, and vote for him. It is important that Americans do this in as large numbers as possible, so that the chance of the best candidate winning is most likely. With every eligible American deliberating over the issues and candidates and then voting, the results of the election will be most likely to be the best. More brain power uncovers the right answer better than less. Therefore, anyone who doesn't vote is a freeloader. It is about the same as littering. One piece of paper won't matter. But to litter that piece of paper is to transfer the burden of not littering onto one's fellows and to take a free ride: a clean city.

This is a good example of a case in which acting morally is not in your interest. Taking the trouble to read up on the issues and spend an hour voting is not in your interest. But it is your duty. (What's duty based on? Altruistic desire, as Hume demonstrated.)

Friday, November 15, 2002

A Couple of Things

Mind Floss mentions determinism v. freedom, and leftist rejection of sociobiology. So, here are a couple of things about freedom.

Without too much difficulty, you can find leftist screeds against the sociobiological theory that men are naturally inclined toward rape. The leftist will say that this is an attempt to excuse rape and therefore reject the science. Baloney, for the obvious reason that morally distasteful results cannot be evidence against a theory. But besides that, consider that the sociobiological theory in question actually has no morally distasteful results. A theory of the origin of someone's urge, by itself, can do nothing to show that the person is not to be blamed for acting on the urge. People are responsible for handling their urges, reasoning about them, and doing as reason bids. There is no escape clause to this principle that says that it depends upon the origin of the urge in question. Where urges come from, be it genetics, upbringing, what have you, is entirely irrelevant to assigning responsibility for action. My tongue is genetically made for chocolate appreciation. But if I steal chocolate, I am blameworthy.

The other thing is this. All events are determined by previous events and natural laws. But you can do whatever you want, so you're free. No one's stopping you. You can go downtown or stay home today. "But it's determined which I will do." Yes, it's determined by your desire. "But my desire is determined." So, what? If you wanted to do otherwise, you could do otherwise. Your sphere of free action does not need to reach to points causally prior to your desires in order to be just that - your sphere of free action. No one's controlling you. You can do what you want.

So, now take the guy who doesn't rape. He might have an urge to rape, but he has a stronger urge not to rape. The rapist, on the other hand, has no such overriding urge, so he rapes. Both do whatever they want. Both have a chance to introspect and determine which they most desire. Both can act contrary to their urge to rape if they so desire. Both are free.