Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Libertarianism Again

If libertarianism is correct, then Joe does nothing wrong in the following scenario:

"Hello? Oh, Fred, hi. Yes, the mailman came, and it looked like he dropped mail at your house. Oh, by the way, your son, Bobby, is bleeding to death on your front lawn, after he severed his foot under the lawnmower. Actually, I think he's dead.... What? No, I didn't. I was busy with this crossword puzzle. I know we're next-door neighbors and all, but I have no obligation to help other people. I'm free to live on my own and be selfish as long as I don't hurt anybody.... Listen, Fred, you're obviously too upset to think clearly about this, so I'm hanging up now. Bye."

And Fred does something wrong in this scenario:

Joe: "No, he's still alive, barely."
Fred: "I have remote control of my burglar alarm next door. If I press the button, the alarm will sound. It is very, very loud and will fill your house with mind-numbing noise. I suggest that you call an ambulance for my son and administer simple first aid, or I will do this."

Clearly, Fred does nothing wrong in the second scenario, and Joe does something wrong in the first. Therefore, libertarianism is false. Until libertarians prove otherwise, they must renounce libertarianism.

Now, the libertarian could say that he need provide no proof that Fred does something wrong and Joe nothing wrong, since the non-libertarian has not provided argument to the contrary. Well and good. Carry the banner of standing idly by as a kid bleeds to death in front of you. Write on the banner "Individual liberty!" People will continue to take your position as seriously as they do now. You simply do not share American values. You want us to accept new values, just like the far left does. But as long as the vast majority in America share a coherent set of non-libertarian values that they prefer and that is consistent with the relevant facts, it is logically impossible for the libertarian to get a wedge underneath those values and overturn them. It is rational for us to live by our values, as long as they are coherent and informed. So, you want us to accept new values, but you have no evidence that we should accept them. Therefore, libertarianism, like far leftism, is a fanaticism.

UPDATE: To be clear: This is an argument for a minimal welfare net funded by taxation. In addition, I have many libertarian friends. They aren't fanatics, and I apologize for calling them that. They are excellent members of the community of inquirers, whom we are lucky to have around. I let some other libertarians, who are fanatics, led me to lose my cool. I'm sorry.
Today I hate my country. We couldn't even pay our last respects to an exemplary American. Maybe we have no values. What's there? Maybe there's no "there" there. Now: decline and fall. Today I hate my country.

UPDATE: Okay, I'm over my little fit. With people like Bob Dole, Bigwig, and the guy who drove his lawnmower hundreds of miles to see his sick brother, we're alright. Oh, yes, and Matt Groening. And Letterman. Oh, jeez, yes: and the President! Thank God for George W. Bush!

And thank God for the Vodkapundit, Lileks, Aaron Haspel at godofthemachine, and the Instapundit for their kind words about Senator Wellstone. (And thank you Senator Lott, Governor Ventura, and Senator Domenici.)

[Voice of Stuart Smalley, Minnesotan]: You know, I feel pretty good about this country! Back to normal!

Monday, October 28, 2002

The Melting Pot II

America was founded on liberty, but it’s always had its conservative, traditionalist, virtue-pedantic side. The point of liberty is that it allows one to pursue happiness in the way most likely to yield it: the way one prefers. The problem is to determine the degree to which to constrain liberty in order to promote virtues and ways of life that are the best. For the values embraced by adults are mostly fixed. And some preferences are better suited to human nature than others. It is good for everyone to fulfill his preferences, for this is the only chance he has for happiness. But, as we saw in “The Melting Pot I,” it would be better if we could all be raised in a culture that nurtured the best preferences and produced a single, shared set of harmonious preferences. This is the key idea behind American multiculturalism: the melting pot. It is an idea that implies liberty, public debate, and the quest for virtue.

Different people have different preferences. In multicultural America there is a variety of cultures, from Minnesotan, to Tennessean, to Chinatown, to Tex-Mex, and to black American culture, with plenty more to name. Most of us would be unhappy being forced to live according to only one of these. The spirit of liberty protects us from this fate.

But liberty is just the hollow shell of a value. The vast majority in American share more values than liberty. There is a common culture that cuts across the vast majority: a Greco-Western, Anglo-American set of practices and values. If the majority who subscribe to this set of values wish to preserve it, they may do so. They should. It contains a rich array of norms that is unexcelled in its capacity to create good lives. Culture is fragile and precious, and if the people see fit to promote this predominant culture (including publicly funding it), they may. It is not good for the minority that diverges from mainstream values and doesn’t cherish the predominant ways. But it is good for the descendents of that minority. The present generation can’t just change its attitudes, but their descendents will be better off. The point is no different from their duty to pay for the military even if they disapprove of defense. If rational, they would wish their descendents to be defended and, similarly, to have a better and more unified culture than theirs. This is why there is no duty to support minority cultures in any way, and it is permissible to promote only the predominant culture of the majority, even with public funds.

Here is how multicultural America should work. We allow liberty and open debate so that the best ways of life - the highest virtues - will be discovered, preserved, and propagated by rational persuasion and demonstration. The predominant culture accrues new ideas from minority cultures, evaluates them, and settles disputes amongst the various cultures by siding with the one that has been shown to be the best: to promote good lives, and to prevent cruelty. In some cases, one of two equally plausible alternative ways of life must be chosen. Even then, the one which is traditional to the predominant culture may and should be chosen. It is better to have a unified set of values than a hodgepodge, or what I called a “cacophony of the heart” in “The Melting Pot I”. But even after these decisions are made, liberty remains, to the extent that recalcitrant minorities are free to maintain their own cultures. The idea is twofold. Forcing them to stop would make them unhappy, since, as I mentioned, adults cannot easily switch ways of life midstream. Also, the excellence of the predominant culture will win over the recalcitrant minorities’ descendents in the fullness of time by demonstration and reasoned debate. The parents cannot reasonably deny their children this higher fulfillment. And as for the minority ways of life themselves, it doesn’t matter that they die off. They’re not people. In sum, both minority and majority must tolerate each other. But the majority may and should support only those ways of life it deems best.

Notice that the liberty of the minority is constrained. Only its more superficial values are to be tolerated. Those values which conflict with the norms governing cooperative endeavors favored by the majority are not to be tolerated, since these are cases in which majority rule holds (unless the minority can demonstrate the superiority of its norms). These may be matters of law or extra-legal morality. Good old boys can’t get drunk and race their cars on any road they please, Muslims may not kill infidel Americans, Muslims must not prohibit the drinking of alcohol in their neighborhoods, and Korean grocers should not place your change on the counter, rather than in your hand. There is no duty to tolerate these practices, but rather a duty of all to refrain from them. But mosques, Chinese traditional clothing and shrines to ancestors, the study of Indian poetry, and the like that are to be tolerated, since they don’t greatly impinge on cooperative endeavors.

Still, it is permissible to offer criticism of minority cultures while tolerating them, and to voice one’s opinion that they are inferior, whenever one sincerely believes that this is true. There is a representation of a worldview in each of the tolerable, superficial practices and values of a culture, a worldview which should be subject to criticism and scrutiny. Keeping the Taoist book Chuang-tzu as one’s favorite book and wearing a yin-yang symbol does not directly cut against American values. But it might do so indirectly; only scrutiny will tell. Confucian family values might count as oppressive by American standards. It makes no sense to consider it to be a duty to lie to someone about whether he is pursuing an inferior way of life. Americans are widely known to be mutually critical. That’s one reason that we excell. Reasoned public debate is crucial, and it requires truth. Furthermore, if we are to be required to tolerate inferior values in America, then we reserve the right to voice reasoned rejection of them. We will not stand idly by while our children, impressionable as they are, are attracted by alternative ways of life that they cannot see are inferior. If objections to inferior values are stricken from the public forum, youth will be lead astray. We will not betray them in this way. Therefore, no minority culture has a right to have its culture acknowledged to be equal to superior culture when it is actually inferior.

On the other hand, Americans are not to show disrespect for the people who are pursuing passably decent ways of life, even if those ways are demonstrably inferior to those of mainstream American culture. American liberty and equality are not consistent with snobbery. On the contrary, it is appropriate to congratulate minority Americans for their happiness, even if you think they could have achieved more were they psychologically equipped with an even better set of values. American multiculturalism represents solidarity between decent Americans of various cultures, but it also is committed to honesty about which ways of life are best and to be preserved and which are inferior and to be left to fade away.

This is the scheme of the melting-pot multiculturalism of America: liberty, public debate, and the quest for virtue. Diversity and liberty are good as means to virtue and unity in America, and as ways to promote the happiness of minority groups before their melting is complete. But virtue, the best ways of life, and unity in them should always ultimately, and with the gentle guidance of liberty and tolerance, override cultural diversity. Diversity is a mere means; virtue is the end. For this reason, the melting-pot multiculturalism of America is only moderate multiculturalism.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Why Paul Wellstone's Death Made us Cry

Mind Floss has argued that anti-American Americans only like the stuff of America: the raw material that is us. They don't like the form of our country and want to remold us according to their own inclinations, envies, and hatreds. I think most leftists fit this description. Their arguments are so lacking in substance and their animosity so high that clearly it is the animosity and not the arguments that motivate them. Mind Floss's description is perspicuous. Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, etc., all tried to mold their societies into the radically new forms of their narcissistic choosing.

This weekend Paul Wellstone has been eulogized as "principled." But Stalin was "principled" in some sense. So, let us try to be less ambiguous in this connection.

Paul Wellstone was a moral exemplar and a leftist. He was tenaciously devoted to the form of America: its values. He examined the evidence about what these values implied and carefully followed it to what he honestly took to be its sound conclusions. He drew conclusions to the left of where many of us do. He thought that American values dictated that the working man should have more political power than he does at present. He thought that we, too, believed this deep down but were somehow making a mistake, some inconsistency, in recognizing our values and their implications. He was trying to call us back to what he took to be our own form, and his way of doing this was through aiming at the truth, scrupulously democratic devotion to public debate, and the good, old fashioned, legal power politics that our system rightly allows for. He had no interest in molding us according to his personal inclinations.

Paul Wellstone fulfilled the duty of every American: to examine political matters carefully and with devotion to defend the conclusions on the evidence in the forum of reasoned debate. His loss made us cry because he was better at fulfilling that duty than the overwhelming majority of us, even than the majority of our leaders. He carefully put together the puzzle of our values in a plausible manner, such that we became better acquainted with their contours thanks to him and, if we were on our toes, came to understand them better by seeing where he erred. Somewhere in the midst of his reasonings there was an error, such that his conclusions were false. But the error was purely intellectual and blamelessly so, and vastly outweighed by the value of his leadership. This is why we needed him in the Senate. Talk about loyal opposition. His death is like the loss of your left arm. Trauma, shock, grief.

Philosoblog will discuss Senator Wellstone's error in "The Political Philosophy of Paul Wellstone" in the next few weeks. I'm sure he'd take the criticism in the spirit of a tribute in which it is intended. As I say, he was devoted to the truth.

Saturday, October 26, 2002

Philosoblog is in the middle of a three-part series: Be a Cultural Elitist (below), The Melting Pot I, and The Melting Pot II.

The Melting Pot I

Extreme Multiculturalism is the position that a society should support a diversity of cultures within itself and should not be partial to any of them, including the predominant one. But this idea should be rejected.

If the predominant culture in a society is a decent one, then its adherents have a right to preserve it. A society is a group of people in a cooperative endeavor, be it a single endeavor, as in the case of a ski club, or the most complete of endeavors: that of living good lives. Cooperation requires shared values, standards, and norms. Therefore, a society should have only one set of moral values. It follows that it is best for a society to have only one culture. This is why extreme multiculturalism should be rejected, which means that the members of a predominant culture in a society have no duty to give support to other cultures.

You’ll notice a superficial irony in this conservative rejection of extreme multiculturalism. The rejection maintains that a people has a right to maintain its traditional culture. Why, then, shouldn’t the conservative support the maintenance of all traditional cultures? But this objection overlooks the fact that a society simply cannot function with a plurality of cultures, since its members cannot cooperate without shared values. It is precisely because a people has a right to preserve its culture that extreme multiculturalism is to be rejected. For extreme multiculturalism, by diverting resources and retraining hearts, militates against the native majority’s effort to maintain its culture. And rejecting extreme multiculturalism is consistent with allowing minority cultures to be preserved. They may be preserved in their home countries, and immigrants may return there if they so desire. If their home country prohibits this, then the loss of their culture is not the fault of their new homeland. The minority has no claim on the majority to alter its way of life to accommodate the minority’s preference. As long as the minority’s fundamental needs are looked after - liberty, food, shelter - majority rule applies.

There are two caveats to the rejection of extreme multiculturalism. First, superficial cultural pluralism is consistent with rejecting extreme multiculturalism. There is nothing wrong with falafel stands, Chinese New Year parades, or reggae bands. (In fact, one suspects that this is the degree of the depth of interest that upper-middle class, white extreme multiculturalists take in the “ethnic diversity” of their communities. They don’t condone the cutting out of little girls’ clitorises, do they?) Certain superficial cultural practices bring happiness to the immigrants who prefer them. These practices don’t militate against traditional American values. So, they should be tolerated. But there is no duty of the predominant culture to support these practices. All of its support may go to preserving its own culture, as difficult and important as that task is. Majority rule applies here. A coherent and monocultural set of superficial cultural practices makes for a healthier moral life by providing harmonious representation of the predominant moral values. A multicultural set of such practices is an aesthetico-moral cacophony signifying no values in particular. Allowing the minority the liberty to diverge from these ways is good for them and not particularly damaging to the predominant culture. But actively orchestrating an array of equally represented practices does do damage. The child of such a multicultural set of images feels nothing in particular about any set of values. He has no deeply felt allegiance to any one way of life. He has a cacophony of soul. (One suspects that this aesthetic joy ride is what the extreme multiculturalists judge to be desirable in the New Man they are designing: a person whose life is like permanent, wild college party, a “long, strange trip,” as the Grateful Dead said. There is no genuine moral argument here.)

The second caveat to the rejection of extreme multiculturalism is that the predominant culture should be open to new ideas from other cultures and to criticisms of its own. Immigrants’ cultures should be examined, and their criticisms should be considered. But this can be done full well without actively embracing those cultures as part of the host society’s cultural makeup.

With these two caveats, the rejection of extreme multiculturalism appears to be well grounded. Of course, rejecting extreme multiculturalism will undoubtedly get you called a “racist”. But rejecting extreme multiculturalism is consistent with inviting immigrants of all races to partake in the predominant culture in America. The topic has nothing to do with biological categories.

Melting Pot II will be up very soon.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Envy II

Dude gnashes his teeth at "big man" who was "undeserving" of his "opportunity" and who doesn't measure up to the "intellectual" standards of Northeast academics' idea of "intelligence" but is able to march around the globe with military superiority. Now, you tell me that idiotarianism is not a matter of envy, when the left labels those who maintain conservative moral standards "Social Darwinists." "Feelings of worthlessness," "feelings of inadequacy," and "inferiority complexes" are attributed by Daniel Moore to George W. Bush. Hmm, why are such things at the forefront of your mind, Mr. Moore?. Renew your efforts to improve your character. Conservatives will extend their hands in kindness and patience to assist you in this courageous effort. It's not too late now. When you're 42 it will be.

(Link via Instapundit.)
Be a Cultural Elitist

The standard by which to measure cultures is this: the extent to which they produce people who lead good lives and are not likely to harm others. Some cultures are better than others in this regard. Therefore, it makes sense to be a cultural elitist.

A cultural elitist is not a racist. Race is a biological category. Racism is the belief that there are races with inherent deficits in intelligence, talents, and health. Maybe this is true, maybe not. Cultural elitists have no dog in that race. They espouse the best culture and intend that everyone of every race be given a chance to achieve it. Frankly, whether racism is true bores the cultural elitist as much as the observation that some people are born retarded. Those who have achieved the best culture include members of every race. Cultural elitists desire only to promote the best culture for anyone capable of achieving it. They are colorblind. (And here we should point out the astonishing fact that today it is the conservative who is more likely to be colorblind, not the leftist.)

A cultural elitist is not a snob. You’re a snob only if you reserve the best culture for some and deny it to others because you like to maintain a pretense that they are incapable of achieving it. Don’t be a snob. Extend the elite culture to everyone with kindness and patience. Recommend and explain it to them, and show them how to go about achieving it in their own lives.

Cultural elitism requires a clear-eyed devotion to the truth. It requires the intention to label a culture as "bad" if it is found not to measure up to the standard of producing people who lead good lives and tend not to harm others. One has to be ready to take abuse from anti-elitists, who will mistakenly think that a disparaging view of other cultures is snobbery or racism. Clearly, some cultures are bad, and extreme moral relativism isn’t true. This means that anti-elitists are off track. They need to be told this, and doing so requires the courage to face their enraged replies.

The key is to explain to the anti-elitists where they've gone wrong. They fail to recognize that culture is more than the superficial things people do: having parades, showing soccer on TV, having birthday cake on birthdays, wearing wedding rings, cutting the hair short, etc. These things are a matter of taste in the most superficial sense that whichever of these things you choose, your chances of having a good life and becoming the sort of person who is likely to harm others remain unchanged. It is silly to be elitist about these things.

But culture is more than that. It runs downwards from this superficial level, through whether to have arranged marriages, whether to inculcate self-reliance in children, the value of literary and historical education, value placed on science and technology, work ethic, whether to have a sense of tragedy about life, and all the way down to whether all little girls should have their clitorises torn out, whether people who question the ruler should be killed, and whether it is okay to enslave others. It is ludicrous to be relativistic at all of these levels of depth. Therefore, cultural elitism clearly makes good sense, and one can overlook this fact if one fails to recognize these levels of depth. This is leftism: a postmodernist lack of depth.

Also, people end up rejecting cultural elitism because they incorrectly think that, other than the duty not to harm others, the only moral value there is is the duty to eliminate gaps in wealth by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor. This leftist view of justice sees no connection between culture and morality; it ignores the plethora of moral values embodied in the various practices and ways of life cultures espouse. It sees the goal of each human life as the individual's fulfillment of his desires in whichever cultural mode suits his taste, a goal utterly distinct from moral life. Moral life having been reduced to the mere duties of avoiding harming others and maintaining absolute equality in wealth, the utopia is one in which each person has the same amount of wealth and uses it to fulfill his desires in the cultural ways of his choice. If this were all true, then it would wrong to be a cultural elitist. For as long as the two moral values - egalitarian justice and non-harming - are fulfilled, every culture has equal moral standing and should be acknowledged as such.

But since the modes of desire fulfillment in any given culture usually embody moral values, the leftist picture of morality is radically incomplete. Indeed, many of the practices and ways of life that a given culture recommends will embody values incompatible with economic egalitarianism and with the principle of not harming others, to wit: self-reliance, art, science and scholarship, the duty to kill those of other religions, the value of the products of a free imagination, and the value of cutting clitorises out of little girls. This is leftism: a philistine incomprehension of the nature of culture and a mere shell of a morality.

Both culture and morality are a rich arrays of norms, and they are usually inseparable from each other. Leftist anti-elitism ignores this human depth. Its rejection of cultural elitism, as you can see, is as monstrously absurd as the values that support the cutting out of the clitoris of a little girl. It’s PC regime has scared most Americans into accepting this monstrous absurdity that cultural elitism is wrong. The result is that Americans’ will to promote, protect, and champion the best culture has been debilitated by the fear of treading into the territory of racism or snobbery, or of being labeled a racist or snob. This has probably caused serious damage to the course of human history. We have been hoodwinked into deeming it wrong to promote what is good. It is time to bring this travesty to an end. The inheritors of any good culture should re-immerse themselves in it, pass it on to their children, and recommend it to others as preferable to many alternative cultures, and especially to the obviously bad cultures. It’s time to start acknowledging and openly discussing the goodness of certain cultures and the badness of others.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Moral Relativism IV - and more

Tonight, an installment in our series on moral relativism, and more. I've been developing a moderate form of cultural relativism. But one important point needs to be made about the falsehood of extreme cultural relativism (the 'anything goes' form).

Some cultures are better than others. The better cultures produce more people who live good lives: people who flourish, are happy and fulfilled and who are not liable to oppress or abuse others. There is a human nature that provides constraints on what sorts of activities human beings will find fulfilling and most deeply pleasing. Happiness and unhappiness are largely determined by values, habits, ways of life, religion, literature, rituals, etc.: culture. You can peruse the globe mentally to take some surmise of this dependency. While unhappiness sometimes is found to be caused tragically by bad luck, rather than culture, often it is culture that is to blame.

None of this means that there may not be two different, incompatible cultures that both yield good lives. Perhaps one may be slightly better than the other, in some instances, but the point is that both are within the reasonable constraints by which they count as "good life producing". (Pre-communist) Chinese culture and American culture may be examples. Hence, moderate relativism is warranted.

There is a practical connection in all this. If you have a culture that is within these constraints and that you love, you should protect it. What is exceedingly important at this juncture in history is that Americans recognize that their Western heritage is better than many alternatives and that they endeavor to protect and sustain it. Liberty isn't everything. Value is.

What does this mean? It means that we should limit immigration to digestible levels. It means that each American should apply himself diligently to the tasks of (1.) educating himself and his children about Western history, literature, political philosophy, music, art, and science (probably in that decreasing order of importance); (2.) discussing this heritage in the public forum in order to elucidate its worth to other Americans and to discover any bad points it may have; and (3.) finding in its wealth a set of values and ways of life that particularly suits his particular personality and promises to bring him the most happiness.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

A blowhard named Michael has a good reply to my post on envy. Michael says leftism might attract followers because it offers a more sensually gratifying aesthetic. (Ever notice the uncanny feeling you get when you find out that a partying rocker dude you know is politically conservative?) Good stuff, check it out, and the comments.

Quick sensual gratification - without all the hard work of achieving a more refined variety (sloth is involved, as commentor Byna points out at 2blowhards). This makes sense. Conservatives - a bit stiff? But Michael should see that conservatives do get the gratification: just the more refined variety (the Mozart, not the Black Flag). And it is entirely plausible that they are having good sex, too. But one look at a sensually liberated lefty on your first day at college, and you might just be saying "Yowsa! Leftism is for me!" Whereas the College Republicans in blue blazers....

Anyway, guess who will in the end have the deepest, most lasting, and most fulfilling gratification of desire. You guessed it: those who follow a long tradition of ways discovered over the ages to lead to such a gratification.

Saturday, October 19, 2002

Do You Feel Like I Do?
Philosoblog would like to emote, if you don't mind.

Feeling #1:
Utter loss of patience with American America haters and the terrorists trying to kill us.
Solution: Start ignoring the former; as for the latter, one can only hope that the war picks up speed. Try to keep mind on other things.

Feeling #2:
Utter boredom with idiotarians. Visceral indignance? No, the thrill is gone. After the 783rd time revisiting idiotarian diatribe, the eyes begin to glaze, and thoughts begin to turn to reading something of value, such as The Byzantine Empire, Antigone, or what have you.
Solution: ignore the blither. Or amuse oneself with neofisking:
First you quote the idiotarian's article. Next you type this comment: "Zzzzzzzz." Another line from the article, followed by another "Zzzzzz." Etc. This, my friend, is neofisking.
The Shortest Essay on Gun Control

Talk about spilled ink. Philosoblog's wisdom is far from sufficient to add anything to the last two-hundred years of discussion of this topic. But perhaps I can contribute one of the most concise arguments ever on the point at issue.

A liberty to do something desireable may be deprived on the grounds that some people in the society will abuse that liberty and harm innocents. But the harm done to the innocents by the abusers must vastly outweigh the desireability of the activity to the responsible users. In other words, you ought to give up your right to do X, only if allowing people to do X will result in very much more harm to innocents than the harm or dissatisfaction you would feel in giving up X. Allowing harm to an innocent is wrong only in cases of extreme imbalance, in which the benefit you derive from allowing the harm is dwarfed by the benefit the innocent would derive from your taking the trouble to prevent his harm. (Prove this premise for yourself by considering cases of various kinds.)

Therefore, gun ownership is as permissible as the use of cars and alcohol. The desireability of self-defense (against criminals, enemies of the nation, and tyrants), transportation, and social drinking are immense. The abusers of these rights harm innocents, but the harm does not vastly outweigh the harm that would result from prohibiting these three activities.

Gun registration? Which guns to keep legal? Bah! Details! Use common sense on those issues.
"No blood for oil!" is a bleating noise made by a mind driven insane by its envy of the prosperous, the healthy, the flourishing, and the placid of soul.

Psychologism is valid when it's clear that the opponent's position is not based on evidence.

Friday, October 18, 2002

About envy, I could go on. Envy caused the September 11 attacks; envy disrupts American education by injecting extreme cultural relativism and multiculti education into it and thereby greatly impeding any effort to pass on the best culture to the next generation; envy causes as much of the corporate embezzlement and Enron-type rip-offs as greed does; envy can dissuade a person from pursuing the one who would make him happy as a spouse; envy caused European socialism and anti-Americanism; and envy caused the Canadian health care system to go socialist, with the eight-month waits to see a specialist and the unavailability of GPs one would expect from such a system.

When it comes to envy, the message is "Mind your own business." Life is short and rich. You'll miss it and cause terrible destruction to yourself and others if you indulge in this vice.

Aaron Haspel tells Philosoblog to get around to reading Envy, by Helmut Schoeck. I'm on it. Envy II will appear soon, since Schoeck will doubtless have some things he'd like me to tell you. (By the way, if you want books such as this, buy them from Liberty Fund. They are excellent and very inexpensive, since sold not-for-profit.) [UPDATE: Aaron's got a word about Schoeck.]

Philosoblog's continuing series on moral relativism will resume soon. In the fullness of time we will have occassion to examine the philosophy of John Adams, as well. The most concise and pithy essay on gun control possible is also in the pipeline.

Thursday, October 17, 2002


This is the cardinal vice. It is the resentment of others’ success or good fortune. Deeply nasty, it is the desire to see others meet up with misfortune and unhappiness. Unlike the thief, the one who envies wants another’s pain as an end in itself. Envy is sadistic.

It is also a lynchpin in a network of vice. We struggle to maintain three very important values in America while beset with envy, as though struggling under a bacterial load. These fundamental values are the right to private property, the duty of self-reliance, and the duty of charity. Envy attacks them all.

The rich, white male is the object of an envy the intense hatefulness of which should make anyone sick with revulsion and despair at the human situation. We live in a free society, in which anyone has the opportunity to obtain enough private property for a good life. Some of the energy we need to pursue such a life is sapped away by envy, and preyed upon by opportunistic race- and class-baiters in order to make political careers for themselves. Our devotion to the right to private property itself is being eroded by this acid. Instead of making good lives by working to obtain the private property that makes for them, many Americans have persevered in a fight for justice that was won decades ago. This progressivism is an envy-based movement. The only duty of the wealthy to the poor, besides abiding by the rules of fair play in the marketplace, is to provide a minimal welfare net, in order to meet basic needs of food, housing, and medicine. The fight has been won. Justice has been achieved (which is the very good news). But the American left wants more than just deserts. It pounds its fist for more, and it has power. Since there is no moral basis for it, we can conclude that this movement is therefore peopled by the envious and those who use them to further their political careers. This is a gigantic waste of human capital, which could have been devoted to building good lives. It is also a partial destruction of the liberty of property rights, and it therefore makes our country worse in many ways.

Misfits will envy the happy and well-adjusted. The poor and their leaders are not the only elements of the progressivist left. The movement needs a middle management class, and it has one. These are the college-educated middle class who don’t fit in and who have been hoodwinked by the leadership into feeling guilt about their wealth. They join the movement because they are bored and restless. The system does not bring them happiness, and they are angry and envious at those to whom it does. They therefore want to bring some excitement into things by rocking the boat, “working for change,” being at the vanguard of a movement. They cannot find happiness in this movement. This is a tremendous loss of human potential, as well.

If only the poor and the middle-class elements in the progressive movement had been shown how a human being of any sort can find happiness in the tradition of values America maintains, none of this would happen. But they do not find this happiness, and they envy in proportion to their discontent. The result is wasted lives and the corruption of our values and political system.

Envy also attacks the value of self-reliance. Leftist progressivism maintains that one probably has a good reason to envy others if one is not a white male and doesn’t end up well-off. There is no good reason for this belief; it is fueled by envy. This distraction from occupying oneself with one’s own concerns and one’s effort to rely on oneself so as not to be a burden to others, worsens one’s life by wasting its energy and also brings ruin to a value which would protect us from this fate: the value of self-reliance.

Finally, it is likely that envy diminishes our potential for charity. This is ironic, given the intimate marriage between envy and the progressivist’s concern for the unfortunate. But it stands to reason that many of us feel deserving of more happiness than we have and zealously guard our opportunities to achieve more of it. The extremely unfortunate amongst us (whose misery can’t be taken away by mere welfare nets) need extra help, but we are less likely to be inclined to give it to the extent that we feel we are already struggling under a shortfall in happiness ourselves. The pureness of heart and benevolence it takes to give charitably is incompatible with the vague feeling of having been cheated by fate or society inherent to envy. This is why those who are able to devote some of their time to charity feel as though a load has been lifted from their shoulders. By forcing themselves to follow their gentler instincts, they have warred against the envy, spite, and self-absorption that makes them discontent with what they have. They are therefore able to find the abundance of happiness in what they have. It was waiting for them all along, but they were too busy looking with envy at others’ situations to notice it.

Two important values in moral life are happiness and justice. America is a just society. It is less happy than it could easily be. And economic justice is under leftist attack. Much of the problem is due to envy. Envy causes sloth, diminishes self-reliance, increases injustice, and forms an obstacle to charity. This makes envy a cardinal vice. The answer is to try to learn how to find happiness with ordinary ways of life, and to help others beset by envy to do so, as well.

[Update: As AC Douglas has pointed out, I've applied some Nietzsche in this essay and should have said so. It was Nietzsche's idea that envy can make those who are not living good lives decide to consider those who are living good lives immoral.]

Monday, October 14, 2002

Dead Enemy Innocents

Hiroshima, Afghanistan, Germany, Vietnam, etc. Tomorrow Iraq. In almost any war we fight enemy innocents are killed: civilians who live in the country that wrongfully starts or provokes a war against us or against our non-aggressive friends. We’re talking about five-year-olds and adults who disapprove of their governments and their aggression. Enemy innocents are people who are seemingly not part of the problem. They die as collateral damage or as targets. It is not wrong for us to kill them in self-defense. But why?

Obviously, the prospect of dead enemy innocents does not morally require us to lie down and take an enemy military’s punishment. But why is this so? It would certainly be wrong to fend off a knife-wielding mugger by grabbing an innocent bystander and shoving him in between yourself and the mugger. Yet, when it’s a case of innocents in another society, the society of the aggressor, things are different.

There are two reasons for this. One is that letting an aggressive state’s military roam the globe with impunity, or at least continue indefinitely to inflict heavy casualties on surrounding states, will sometimes be unavoidable if killing its civilian innocents is ruled out. In the case of the mugger, in a well-policed society there will inevitably be an opportunity to apprehend the guy without harming innocent bystanders. He might kill a few first, but the number will not be unlimited, as in the case of the rogue state we try gingerly to contain. So, killing enemy innocents in war may often be simply a way to limit the innocents killed in the long term. This is a reason for killing innocents as a drastic measure to ward off catastrophe.

But that’s not the more important reason. The more important reason holds even when the rogue state will not be likely to continue to inflict unlimited casualties on us (as, for instance, in a case in which its ammunition will eventually run out without opportunity for resupply). The more important reason is “better them than us”. It’s better that enemy innocents die than that our own die. However, this doesn’t apply in the case of the mugger. You can’t turn to a five-year-old stranger on the street and say, “Son, better you than me,” and place him in the way of the oncoming knife. Yet, it applies in the case of enemy innocents. Why?

Enemy innocents are by definition members of a society with a very serious moral failing: a culture unable to maintain a non-aggressive governmental regime. These innocents may have a choice to rebel in effort to stop their government from pursuing its aggressive designs. If they choose not to rebel, they are no longer innocents but, as contributors to the aggressive society, are collaborators in its aggression. If they do endeavor to rebel, their deaths are no longer those of enemy innocents, but those of our allies: victims of our friendly fire, which is a different story. On the other hand, if they cannot rebel because they are mere children, physically incapacitated, or certain to be immediately suppressed in their efforts, then we have a problem: the prospect of genuine dead enemy innocents. Yet, the deaths of these innocents are still justified, merely by the fact that their culture is not innocent but morally flawed. How?

It’s not merely that they are foreigners. “Better them than us” won’t work if you are dying of organ failure and decide to kill someone in a non-aggressive foreign country, in order to harvest his liver. No, it’s the fact that they are enemy innocents that counts. “Better them than us” applies in this case because, innocent as they are, they are members of societies of lower moral status that force the choice on us. The prospect that they will remain innocent over the course of their lives is lower than the prospect that our own country’s innocents will remain innocent. For their culture is likely to have a corrupting effect, as evidenced by it’s inability to maintain a peaceful governmental regime. And their own countrymen are more likely to kill, injure, or otherwise prevent them from leading good lives, than our countrymen are likely to do to our innocents. Our innocents are no more innocent than theirs. But better them than us, because our culture is better, and it is better that it survive. In a sense, enemy innocents are part of the problem, though not the cause of it. Innocent as they are, they are sociologically inextricable from the problem.

Obviously none of this justifies killing innocents of a non-aggressive society merely on the grounds that it is somewhat morally corrupt. In such a case, we have the better options of doing nothing or of endeavoring to improve them with reasoned dialogue about values and ways of life. But when a state threatens or attacks us, its corruption becomes extreme and it eliminates these options for us. It is this combination of this extreme moral corruption and the force of choice that makes killing enemy innocents in self defense justifiable.

The final test: If you lived in a country with a wicked, aggressive government, say 1942 Germany, and had to choose either to be killed by its innocent opponents in a necessary step toward stopping its aggressions, or to be spared as it went on an indefinite rampage of terror and destruction of good countries around the globe, which would you choose? Would you object to the bombs’ being dropped on your house in Dresden? If you would not object, if you would in good conscience choose to lay down your life, then you are in possession of not only a sound case for the killing of enemy innocents, but a consistent one.

(You will notice that I haven't distinguished between dead enemy innocents as collateral damage and enemy innocents killed when we make them the actual target, as in the salient cases of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It makes no moral difference. In either case, we find it necessary to kill enemy innocents in self defense, either as collateral damage in our effort to devastate the enemy military, or as a means of undermining the enemy's will to go on. If we must make enemy innocents the actual target in order to defend ourselves, this is a drastic measure, but it is no less justified than countenancing the collateral damage deaths.)

Saturday, October 12, 2002

The Meaning of Life

The meaning of life is simple. But we can't see it so easily and it's hard to articulate it. It comes to the fore in sorrow: something unfathomably valuable, the loss of which is unbearably sorrowful. Sorrow is so deeply negative because it's not merely negative. It brings us face to face with what is of deepest value and completely fulfilling. That our hold on this fulfillment is fragile and impermanent is sorrowful just because the fulfillment is so profound. "Sorrow" here is more than just any "sorry that...." You can be sorry that you failed in some respect or that you didn't take some trivial option, such as buying a house instead of renting an apartment. But the sorrow that gets at the meaning of life is a different kind of sorrow. Call this sorrow "melancholy". The only good thing about the bombing of September 11 is that it gave anyone who was open to the prospect a chance to grasp the meaning of life in the most complete and profound melancholy. And yet it slips away, this most important of messages.

The message is one of Common Sense & Wonder. It is twofold.

The meaning of life is the fulfillment of ordinary aspirations, ordinary values, ways of life discovered over the ages and passed down from generation to generation, with refinements made along the way. There are many such traditional roles for a person to take up: the scientist, the mother, the artist, the businessman, the father, the athlete, the poet, the teacher, the friend, the soldier, the cousin, etc. These roles include individual endeavors and relationships with others. The roles are complicated, and meaning and fulfillment are to be found in mastering the complications, in taking up your roles fully and completely. It's not acting; a particular combinations of roles is you. It leaves room for your individual expression, too. You may put things together in a way that expresses your own desires, talents, and feelings.

That's it. That's the lion's share of the meaning of life. You might not believe me. But imagine getting the call that a loved one has died in a terrible, sudden accident. Or imagine being told by your doctor that you yourself have only two weeks to live. Or imagine being 72 and being so fortunate as to have pulled it all off with uncommon virtuosity and luck: the career, the family, the development of talents, the maintanance of good friends, etc., etc., and finally being able to hold your beloved son's baby daughter in your arms. Or recall confronting the destruction of 3,000 Americans attempting to achieve this goal, a destruction undertaken by people representing the envy, hatred, and delerious despair of millions upon millions of others unable in their wildest dreams to achieve this goal by dint of the fact that their values are not the legacy of a long tradition of successful discoveries of ways to achieve fulfillment and meaning, but are rather the awful result of a lengthy human failure to find these ways. Looking into these chasms of despair, bottomless and desolate as they are, we can, with one tiny adjustment of view, so inoften made, come to confront the depths of meaning that make that despair what it is. This argument is not a cheap appeal to your emotions. Imagining catastrophe is precisely what shows you what you value most of all, what you will take as more than enough: the ordinary, run-of-the-mill fulfillments that common sense suggests to us. The meaning of life is to do what common sense has us do.

If it's so common and mundane, how can it be so profound? Herein lies doubt, and from here one carries on, all the while living a meaningful life but ever in a state of mild confusion about "what's it all about?" Or, even worse, one doubts common sense, turning away to darker endeavors in a vain effort to ease the resultant boredom. The failure to learn how to determine appropriate aspirations for oneself and how to find pleasure in fulfilling them leads to this frustrated malaise in which the common-sense values are blamed, scoffed at, held up as a meaningless charade. In failure, one will decry the standard as a fraud. Even in our own culture, the envy, hatred and despair of meaningless lives may be found. All this is a result of never having been shown (or, having been shown, lacking the common sense to see) the way to find profoundly fulfilling pleasures in ordinary life.

The second component of the meaning of life: that merely to exist is of profound value. The fact that there is something, rather than nothing, is a fact utterly worthwhile and gratifying and yet impossible to explain. It's just this: to exist. All ordinary values and mundane endeavors aside, there is still this. Death brings melancholy not only because of the devastation it wreaks upon our ordinary aspirations, but also because it cancels our continuing to be conscious participants in the continuing existence of this world.

Death delivers the meaninglessness of it all? Hardly. It can reap only because we flourish. It can seem to threaten with meaninglessness only because we are in possession of great meaning. Sorrow in the face of death shows us our own victory over the final and certain claim this grim reaper has on us. Its toll is terrible only because we have already won.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

American Unilateralism: A Vigilantism

Millions upon millions of people do not like the idea of America attacking a country without UN permission. One has to abide by law, consensus, the democratic process, and a spirit of cooperation, it is said. "Unilateralism" has become a pejoritive term, as has "vigilantism".

I say that American unilateralism is vigilantism. But it's a good thing. Vigilantism is wrong when there is a government in place that enforces good laws well. But in the case of the international sphere, there is no such government. The UN is not a government that enforces good laws well. It's not much of a government, with very little law enforcement might. It is like the lack of government in the Wild West of two hundred years ago. And its laws are not much better, in some cases, than the 19th C. American laws permitting slavery. Blacks in the 19th C. American South were morally entitled to ignore American law and defend themselves and their liberty with force. Blacks were morally permitted to free themselves by force, even though this was "illegal". By the same token, in the absence of governmental law enforcement, Wild West cowboys were morally entitled to form posses of vigilantes and, by force, punish wrongdoers.

When the law enforcement is too feeble and the law beyond the pale of one's reasonable self-interest, one is morally entitled to take the vigilante path. The reason is that one is never morally obligated to submit to oppression. "Oppression" is a strong term. There are cases in which one is obligated to accept a law that one deems less than perfect; the democratic spirit of compromise requires this. But when the law is largely against one's self interest or feebly enforced, one may "take the law into one's own hands". You might object, "But that is to countenance anarchy! You can't just allow every country to do as it pleases!" Yet, in this case, when one faces one's own oppression at the hands of others, it is morally permissible to wage war and make anarchy. You certainly wouldn't chastise the slave of the 19th C. for breaking his shackles, on the grounds that it is an anarchistic move. When what government there is will not protect you, you have a right to take matters into your own hands. Yes, we can't just allow every country to do as it pleases. But this is precisely why we're justified in using force against our enemies, whether the UN gives its okay or not. For our enemies are precisely countries that do as they please. And we certainly can allow every country innocent of any aggression to defend itself. The decision to go against the international community's request that we not invade Iraq does not commit us to the view that any country may do as it pleases; it only commits us to the view that an innocent country may defend itself whether others approve or not.

The standard to live by is a moral standard, not the democratic/statist standard of political consensus. The minority has a duty to bow to majority consensus only when the majority protects all of the minority's important interests (in other words, the interests any reasonable, moral person would deem important). But even that democratic/statist standard rests upon the moral principle that at the level of arbitration of less important values, in other words, the level we are concerned with only after the fundamental level of important interests is secured, the minority has no right to force it's morality on a majority but must acquiesce to the majority's preference. When we are forced to choose amongst principles each of which is reasonable, the only moral reason to be found is majority rule.

But when circumstances force us to revisit the fundamental level, we see that there is no such democratic duty. America (nor Israel, by the way) is not obligated to submit to oppression by Arabs, just because the UN determines that it must do so. The UN does not make and enforce laws sufficient enough to protect Americans from suitcase nukes and other weapons of mass destruction delivered by Arab states. A vigilantistic unilateralism is in order, therefore. There's no good sherif in these parts, boys; time to round up a posse.
Greetings. And a special hello to befuddledatarians! (See previous post on idiotarianism.)

Moral Relativism III

Cultural relativism is moral relativism from culture to culture (as opposed to relativism from individual to individual, which, we've seen, is flat out false). Cultural relativism says that what's right in a society is determined by it's preferences. There is an extreme form and a moderate form. The extreme form says that anything goes; whatever a society prefers is right for it. The moderate form says that there are some absolute values that cannot be changed by preference, while there are also some values that are up to each society's preference to set for itself.

Extreme relativism is false. It holds that Naziism, Stalinism, female infant castration, and torturing children for fun are all right for a society if that society prefers them. The reason this can't be so, is that morality is, of necessity, a matter of balancing self-interest with concern for others' interests. This is why a society can't just decide that anything is right for it, such as requiring everyone to walk with a limp, to stare at a pig until everyone drops dead, or to think about hammers once every hour. None of those things has anything to do with balancing interests of the members of society, and the four atrocities, Naziism and the rest, are also devoid of such balance. In those systems, someone gets the shaft for no fault of his own. In addition, a society can't embrace incoherent values, such as "All men are entitled to liberty" and "it's okay to enslave blacks". Two inconsistent principles can't both be true. Finally, a society can't rightly hold a value based on a factual error. "Women don't care if you cut their clitorises off" and "blacks aren't people" are factual errors supporting perverse values. The lesson: oppression, incoherence, and factual error are limits showing that extreme relativism is false.

Moderate relativism is the position that within these limits there may be some play, some wiggle room in which a society can set its legitimate values differently from others. If Canada wants socialized health care and is willing to live with the reduced level of service, while the U.S. prefers privatized health care with its attendant millions of uninsured people, then these values are legitimately relative. "We ought to maintain a socialized medical system" is true in Canada, false in the U.S. Whether it's okay to punch someone who insults you is probably culturally relative. There are other examples. They all fall into the category of matters of moderate importance. As long as a society is coherent in its values and goes along with the bonafide facts of the matter, it is entitled to set its own values.

More later.

Monday, October 07, 2002

The Profound Goodness of Some Idiotarianism

"If you weren't a liberal when you were 20, you don't have a heart. If you aren't a conservative by the time you're 35, you don't have a brain." So the saying goes. I'm 37, and I can tell you that I understand this saying at the most intimate level. In any event, our concern today is the "heart" part.

Imagine having stridently, um, "progressive" values: being strongly environmentalist, being deeply cynical about American values, and valiantly championing the cause of poor people of the world against their oppression by the wealthy powers that be. Imagine hearing arguments from conservatives that these deeply held beliefs are not right. What do you feel, how do you react?

"I cannot betray the vulnerable. I’ve been given powerful reason for giving up my stances in support of ending the misery of poverty, of fighting the U.S. government’s attempts to subvert other societies innocent of any wrongdoing, of the potentially apocalyptic destruction of the environment by selfish polluters, and of stopping the racist and sexist system in America. The stakes are too high. I simply cannot believe the arguments from conservatives that my positions on these issues are incorrect. The chance that I’m having the wool pulled over my eyes by cunning, deceitful rhetoric is substantial. No, I will stick to my guns in spite of all the evidence against me.”

This is noble. This is a real human heart. This is the young leftist who has a chance of taking the step to conservatism. The problem is that from his perspective, conservatism must be wrong, because it says that one has no obligation to stop poverty, stop the U.S. government’s evil foreign policy, prevent an immanent environmental apocalypse, and destroy a racist and sexist American system. To the leftist, relinquishing the liberal position, abandoning the leftist causes, is indistinguishable from giving up on the most morally important ideals a human being could have. Only a good person of substantial moral character would marshal such restraint and bring such energy to bear in resisting what seem to him be sinister and beguiling appeals from the right wing.

Now, there are leftists - idiotarians - who are not in this league. They cling to their leftist dogma out of either (a.) envy of successful, happy people or (b.) a sense of the radical chic, a boredom with the hum-drum of life that they have decided to assuage by adopting a “Marxist-feminist” or a “Chomskyite” or “postmodern anti-globalist multiculturalist” countercultural persona. Usually it’s both, because (a.) leads to (b.). If you can’t find deep satisfaction in ordinary human values, then you get bored and may decide to amuse yourself with radical chic. These people are deeply idiotarian. There is no real human heart here. There’s no use in concerning oneself with them. Helping them is all but impossible.

No, the idiotarians we're concerned with here hardly deserve that name. They are doing their best to figure out what’s right. We should call them “befuddledatarians”. They may have a streak or two of the hardcore idiotarian in them - a bit of the misfit, the bored, the self-absorbed - that has contributed to their befuddlement. But they have the moral character it takes to shake off their illusions and gain solid moral footing in the areas in which they now err. It can happen in a matter of the course of a single year. All it takes is others’ kindness, patience and willingness to pursue reasoned deliberation with them; they’ll come around. If you meet a leftist, go that extra mile unless you’re sure he’s one of the hardcore idiotarians. For he might just be a 27- or 34-year-old befuddledatarian ripe for the picking.

Oh, and you beffudledatarians: you better pursue the strong arguments against your views. Don’t be lazy. Be courageous. You know you want the truth about moral matters, so go after it and face it, whatever it turns out to be.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Two Instances of Silliness

1. The argument that Bush's invasion of Iraq is wrong because he just has imperialistic motives.

You can find this on Salon. Silly: that someone's motives are relevant to whether his action is in fact right. That's pomo Marxist nonsense: attack motives because there is no such thing as good reasons for believing anything anyway. The left is wedded to pomo Marxism at the genetic level. Silly: To dismiss the likelihood that a suitcase nuke from Baghdad will appear in an American city soon unless we change the Iraqi regime. Silly: To complain about the U.S. supporting corrupt dicators in order to stop the U.S.S.R. from taking over the world and in order to prevent the world from descending into an economic depression for lack of oil flow. Silly: To think that we should bring democracy to Saudi Arabia instead of supporting its tyrants. We can't bring democracy to that country because they are culturally incapable of it at this time. Therefore, we have no duty to bring democracy to it.

2. The argument that without religion, people become degenerate, debased, selfish, and interested only in satiating their lusts.

You can find this on NRO. I love NRO; it's amongst the best things going on the internet. However, I have to hold my nose through the 5% of it devoted to over-the-top religionism. Silly: Defending with great pride the notion that religion is a necessary crutch for anyone who wants to be a good person. If it's true, it's deeply humiliating to the religious. They are incapable of adult moral backbone and need a father figure to provide the backbone. This is nothing to be proud of. Silly: That religion is not to be defended because it's true but only because it's a mental trick we need to go through, in order to cope with our moral lives properly. The moment you start recommending a belief because it will improve the believer's life, you as much as admit that there is no good evidence for the belief. Otherwise, you'd just provide the evidence for it. So, I guess there is no evidence that religious belief is true, if we are at the level of recommending it for practical reasons. Silly: That there aren't lots of non-religious people with solid moral character, the existence of whom renders the recommendation of the crutch to those who need it all the more demeaning and humiliating, rather than worthy of pride. Religion matters. It bears a sublime and important relation to many people's moral lives. But a more subtle approach to religion than NRO's is required in order to uncover this relation.

Friday, October 04, 2002

One point about libertarianism to be looked at later:

Is there ever something wrong with forcing someone to do his duty? Is there always something wrong with it? Clearly the answer to the latter question is no. It's not wrong to force someone to fulfill his contracts, for example. Is it wrong to force someone to go take his aged parents a hot meal once a week? Is it wrong for the state to do that? Yes. Because it's too intrusive? Or because the state is likely to botch the job? The latter. There is nothing wrong with a perfectly wise and good entity applying pressure to slackers who are lax in their duty. The state is too far from wise and good, however, and shouldn't be trusted with certain intrusions into personal affiars.

Unless the matters are serious. The state should be entrusted with entering your home if there is good reason to believe that you've kidnapped someone. The state should be entrusted with forcing everyone to pay his charity duty: tax for welfare support. That's a serious enough matter, too. On the other hand, if it can be shown that the state is bad at providing welfare support, while private charities are good at it, then welfare should not be a state matter.

Moral Relativism II

It is permissible for a society of people to live as they prefer, and to treat each other as they prefer to treat each other, as long as this doesn't affect people in other societies. But clearly, different societies will have different preferences for how their members are to treat each other. Therefore, some degree of cultural relativism is true.

Human nature is a constraint, however. Consistency and conformity to the facts relavent to the moral values of the society are also important. We'll see that this means that extreme cultural relativism is therefore false. Only moderate cultural relativism is true. Castrating little girls is universally wrong, but there are other morals which may be culturally relative. These are topics for future installments in our series on moral relativism.
Today Philosoblog welcomes Tisnot and Alex Zakharov aboard. What we're trying to do, if you recall Philosoblog's very first post, is to bring to light good, sound truths of American moral philosophy. With people like Tisnot and Alex Zakharov, we'll get there yet. Please correct any errors Philosoblog makes. Philosoblog has no interest in convincing others to believe as Philosoblog believes. It's only interest is to believe what's found to be true and show the reasons to others.

The point of Philosoblog: There are important truths in American moral philosophy. Many of them have never been articulated or defended thoroughly. This is not a current events blog, and there are gaps of several days between posts.

New readers: It's quiet here. Feel free to jump in.

Thursday, October 03, 2002

Greetings. Today we begin our series on relativism. Each installment will be bite size. Here we go:

Moral Relativism I

The issue is whether there is a single standard for how one should treat others in any given situation. Absolutism says yes. Relativism says no. Be careful. There are different degrees and kinds of relativism.

There are two kinds of moral relativism: cultural relativism and individual relativism. Cultural relativism says that the standards governing how one should treat others can sometimes depend on the values adhered to by one's society. Today, however, we won't be dealing with cultural relativism, but only with individual relativism, which says that how one should treat others can depend on the values one individually adheres to. In other words, how one should treat others depends on which values one accepts.

We'll deal with some complex stuff when we get to cultural relativism, but individual relativism is simply flat out false beyond the shadow of any doubt.

What are moral standards? They are the norms that everyone in one's society is supposed to abide by. If individual relativism is true, then these norms are up to each individual to decide. That would mean that the norms that everyone is supposed to abide by are up to each individual to set for himself. As you can see, a norm that each individual can change to suit himself is not a norm that everyone is supposed to abide by. Individual relativism is incoherent and therefore clearly false.

But you knew that, right? Good!

When we get to cultural relativism, we'll see that in a limited but important sense it's true, while in another sense it is as flat out as false as individual relativism.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Get your degree in BS Studies right here!

Let’s talk about the leftist destruction of the very idea of moral judgments (it's called "idiotarianism" in the blogosphere). Believe it or not, in confronting this phenomenon, we're in the same position as natural scientists. Scientists are are busy trying to discover a theory to explain all the forces of nature, everything from why the sun shines, why the Big Bang banged, why electricity shocks, why refrigerator magnets stick, to why the toast that famously lands jelly-side down falls downwards at all. It can’t all be “just because”. There must be a single explanation. This scientific Holy Grail is to be called a “Theory of Everything” or “TOE”. If you look at all the marvelous events in the universe and scratch your head, then just wait until scientists find their TOE and you'll need scratch no further.

Conservatives scratch their heads, too, when they observe the plethora of leftist antics, verbiage, diatribes, and, in extreme cases, crimes against humanity. What’s the source of all this? There must be a formula, some rhyme or reason behind the baffling variety of leftist blunders. We need a theory to explain leftist nonsense, such as: the support for cop killers on death row; the support for anyone poor who suicide-bombs anyone not-so-poor; the stealing of entire press runs of student newspapers that run ads for a book arguing against reparations for slavery; the sacred faith in the wickedness of U.S. foreign policy; the gay rights group that urges its members to donate blood against the Red Cross’s policy aimed at preventing the spread of AIDS; the claim that sperm banks can be good daddies, too; the fact that a black applicant to a law school is 731 times more likely to be accepted than an equally qualified white one; the cancellation of excellent men’s college sports teams because there aren’t enough women’s teams; the utterance by the leader of the feminist movement that men do not generally have more upper-body strength than women; the starving to death of between two and five million Ukrainians because they didn’t want to embrace communism; the labeling of George W. Bush a terrorist; etc. I could go on, but so could you. This is, in essence, a long list of ways in which commonsense moral judgments are being slated for destruction by liberals. Of course, there are people on the left with plenty of commonsense and who decry these abhorrent leftist ways. But theirs is an unstable position, for they have to brace themselves and resist the leftward pull into the gloom. What is this force that pulls them, having swallowed up so many others on the left?

All this rot must have a root. The human mind simply will not countenance a vast array of unexplained phenomena. It will have its TOE, but in this case it will be a Theory of Leftism: TOL. I have a TOL for you. To what, according to TOL, do we owe the stream of nonsense emanating from the left? To Marxism. I don’t mean Marxism as just a historical precedent. I mean Marxism as a living, breathing creed, as the basic stance alive and well underneath all of the leftist buffoonery. The “basic stance” of leftism - call it “BS” - is this:

BS: Since the distribution of power amongst the various humans on this planet is uneven, those with less of it are oppressed, and any moral judgments that tend to preserve the distribution are merely ways for oppressors to maintain the oppression.

That’s it. End of story. That’s my TOL. If you pull this straw, the whole structure of leftism comes tumbling down. How? Take a look. Any liberal baloney you can name is based on the BS that my TOL claims is the fundamental Marxist position underneath every liberal gaffe. Bush goes to war against Al Qaeda? That preserves the uneven distribution of power. Someone says sperm banks don’t make good daddies? That preserves the unequal access to childbearing that husbandless women face. Gays politely asked not to donate blood? College men may have more teams? Those don’t exactly promote equal outcomes for all. Someone says it’s a violation of free speech to steal entire press runs of newspapers that suggest that certain people do not deserve trillions of dollars? Well that’s very convenient - for the people who have the trillions! “Right to free speech”? Please! If you can’t afford to publish your own newspaper, then you’re a fool to respect such a right. That newspaper has more freedom of speech than a hobo, so it ought to be trashed, because it suggests that the hobo does not deserve to have us write him a fat check, a suggestion which does not exactly help empower the hobo. Men have more upper body strength? Sure, believe that and you’ll just be perpetuating the unequal access women have to jobs requiring lifting things.

Run through the rest of the list of liberal laughables for yourself. Each and every one of them derives from BS. Go ahead, I’ll wait.... See? That proves TOL. Now think of some more common liberal nonsense.... See? TOL explains everything.

Okay, now you have your Bachelor’s degree in BS Studies. But you’re an inquiring mind. You want your Master’s. What’s really going on with this BS?

Liberals aren’t stupid. There is something to this BS. It’s this: BS believers think that it’s unfair for some people to start out with less of the good stuff in life - freedom, wealth, brains - than others. Why? Because that means they have less of a chance to end up with good stuff. It’s not fair! Others have a head start! Right?

Wrong. It sounds seductive, and that’s how it hoodwinks millions of people with triple-digit IQs into accepting the liberal BS. There is nothing unfair about not having as good a chance as someone else at having a good life. It’s simply bad luck, that’s all. If your oven tends to make your souffles fall, it’s not an injustice. If you were born with two left feet, this wasn’t a wrong done to you. If you are not well-to-do, this doesn’t mean Ritchie Rich has done you an injury. If you don’t have the brains for law school, this doesn’t mean law school graduates have gotten the better of you. If you don’t inherit wealth, this doesn’t mean those who do are oppressors. It’s just the breaks. The roll of the dice. Dumb luck. You might as well scream at the rocks in your backyard for not being gold. Unequal outcomes in life are not a sign of injustice in society, and therefore unequal starting positions aren’t either. If unequal outcomes were unjust, then the following BS would make good sense: “People who can afford only one house have a right to be outraged that other people can afford two.” But that BS doesn’t make good sense. Of course, for the wealthy to leave innocents to suffer in abject misery caused by severe poverty or other misfortune is indeed wrong. That’s the common sense that the Good Samaritan had and that conservatives do, too. But that extreme case does nothing to bolster the gobsmackingly sweeping array of claims BS generates, such as the idea of a right to as many sports teams as men.

You want your Ph.D. in BS Studies? Very well. Marx said that all moral judgments are merely attempts made by the well off to solidify the uneven distribution of power. Stealing is wrong? Very convenient, Ritchie Rich! Sure, keep me in jail for being a thief! Very convenient - for you rich folk, that is! Got it? Follow the money! Common sense moral judgments are a sham! They’re all about power!

That’s BS. But what’s really going on here? The problem is that the BS - that moral judgments that tend to preserve the distribution of good stuff in society are merely ways for oppressors to maintain the oppression - is horribly incoherent. Yes, Marxism is horribly incoherent, and TOL tells you why: Because the absolute egalitarianism that leftists champion - communism, socialism, or whatever - is itself a moral judgment that tends to preserve a certain distribution of good stuff - namely, an absolutely equal distribution. Therefore, it, too, is just another way for oppressors to preserve an oppressive distribution - namely the absolutely equal distribution which oppresses people who work hard and/or have good luck and/or desire to give their children an inheritance and/or decide to make something of their talents, etc. We know that it is not wrong for those hard-working, talented, and lucky folks to have their goodies while others don’t (except when it comes to the special case I mentioned of innocents in abject misery). As you can see, good old conservative values, like self-reliance, charity, hard work, private property, fair play, non-covetousness, joy in others’ good fortune, quickly come to the fore. These are targeted for destruction by leftist BS. Marxism, which is BS, is a moral judgment that says moral judgments are a sham. Talk about BS!

There you have it: TOL. The mystery of liberalism is solved. Please explain it to the liberals you meet. When they say, “Oh, that’s very convenient! That just perpetuates the structure of -”, then cut them off and explain it again. Don’t let them continue to destroy the very idea of moral judgments.

(You get your honorary doctorate for noticing the unholy marriage of BS and postmodernism. BS requires that you deny that there are any objective facts in the world, such as that men have upper body strength, that some people are smarter than others, that there are stars, that cars run on combustion, etc. Postmodernism is the insane asylum in which this BS passes for sophisticated insight.)

(Nobel Prize in BS: you realize that simple lefties who just let their hearts bleed feel too guilty to consider arguments against leftism because they think considering them doesn't serve the interests of the poor. They know that if those arguments removed them from their leftist slumbers, they will no longer fight for the downtrodden masses. This makes them feel guilty, so they don't consider the arguments. That's BS, because it lets truth and morality take a back seat to leftist dogma. It's also cowardly, but don't get me started.)