Thursday, July 27, 2006

Two Issues in Conservatism

It strikes me that there are two issues that may be puzzling. The first is conservatism without God. I think some people may wonder about that, thinking that you have to have old-time religion to be conservative. In fact, I believe that many of them think the notion of atheistic conservatism is eccentric or even nonsensical. In fact, the opposite is true; the status of conservatism is logically unrelated to God. So, I'll have a post about that in a while.

The other issue is a thornier and not entirely clear to me yet. It is that conservatism is not on the right, as opposed to the left. If been told several times by people wiser than me that the connection between conservatism and "the right" is a ruse perpetrated by the left. A regular named Jerry ("jerry") over at Roger Simon's site told me this a year or two ago, for example, saying that "right" was coined by Stalin to distinguish himself from other leftists with whom he was incompetion. What makes the issue even more interesting is that "left" must disappear when we dissolve "right" into nonsensehood. Anyway, I'm not the historian that Jerry is. But I am a philosopher, and I have something to say about the matter. It does seem to me that the philosophical status of conservatism is not to the right in any sense at all. There will be a lot to think when we get to that post, as we will do soon.

Meanwhile, youse chew these two issues over on your own. Then stop by.

Also, I'll be continuing my series of short studies of the works of John Kekes. First up will be his recent The Art of Life. John Kekes is the greatest American conservative philosopher (though I admit that that's not saying much.) Peruse my archives for posts presenting his ideas.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No, Seriously, Bigwig's Back

It's unbelievable. He's even serving up the stories. These stories are compiled into a book in my mind called "Guy Stuff". Many of them are really about my daily experiences, not his, and I don't know how he found out about them. All of them are fun to read.

But let's hope he keeps up the current-events analysis. Like I say, no one can crawl up someone's asshole with a microscope like Bigwig can. Plus he makes inferences that no one else seems to be able to notice until he does.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Flipper Babies

Richard Chappell asserts, just as my good friend Bob does, that it's okay to produce a person with injuries as long as that person's life is worth living. But he assumes that "the damage is moderate enough that the resulting life would still be well worth living." Notice the terms "moderate" and "well" there.

Take flipper babies, babies born with stubby arms and legs due to thalydomide poisoning. Suppose the baby has no arms or legs (or whichever horrific ailment you've supposed.) It doesn't matter how, but imagine the harm is grievous enough to make the life just barely worth living. Death by 12. Frequent pain. Minimal ability to function. But, as luck would have it, activity providing enough entertainment to register a lackluster and dreary "acceptable" on the scale of goodness of life. By no means deeply satisfying. By no means.

Now, if you knew that this was the only sort of baby you could conceive, then your choice to do it would seem to be wrong, at least by my lights. The child's looking you in the face and saying in anguish, "How could you do this to me papa?" would make sense. "But I love you and you're all I could make." "I know you love me papa." Then the head turns away. You chose to make it the case that someone has no arms or legs. You chose to make it the case that someone has a life only barely worth living. You did wrong. At least, it isn't clear that you did not, and Richard hasn't proven other wise.

The practical point of this business, to me, is sperm bank conception. It seems to me a grievous injury to choose to make it the case that someone has a father who doesn't ever love, ever see, or ever want to see him. The harm seems grievous enough to make this form of conception wrong. (Check my little series of posts over at Right Reason.)

Here my point is just that it is not in the clear that it's okay to do harm to someone as long as that he doesn't exist yet and the harm is necessary to create him. Richard's Pinnochio example doesn't do anything to refute that contention.

By the way, if you like philosophy blogs, you'll love Richard's.
Bigwig's Back Some

It's good to see Bigwig analyzing current events for us. In the past he has demonstrated uncanny and unique powers of insight into them.

Friday, July 21, 2006

God and Adulthood

Belief in God is a way of clinging to a vestige of childhood. Atheism is full adulthood. Neither is more praiseworthy than the other, so don't get me wrong. The vestige of childhood that theists cling to is just a dream, an idle fancy, that does not need to have deleterious effect on their character (their backbone, independence, self-reliance, or the like.) Likewise rejecting this vestige and embracing atheism do not improve one's character. They are simply more realistic attitudes toward something that has little practical importance.

God has little practical importance, you see. Many theists would agree. They think that God bids them make up their own minds about what to do. Even when they claim that God shows them what to do, their decisions about how to act are indistinguishable from independent decisions, there being no evidence that God helps them make the decisions.

So, I have nothing polemical to say and I don't mean to denigrate theism. My point is that atheism is the recognition that if your loved ones die there is no one there for you. There is only rocks. What human beings do matters to no one else because no one is there. In particular, there is no one whom we devoutly wish to please and show our adoration and aspiration to be equal. He's not there to show pride in us. There is no harmony or orchestration of human life within a meaningful higher order. There is a higher order, but it isn't meaningful; it's physics. Atheism is like the death of your parents. Dad's dead. There's no one there now. Just you. Your kids need and love you, but you have no one.

What is interesting is whether this makes life pointless. Many theists would say that it does. But it does not. It is rational to attempt to fulfill your large and complexly orchestrated set of desires, is it not? You don't need a divine parent overseeing the matter to make it worthwhile to do so. Or if you do, then God's life is drearily meaningless, as he has no parent. One might utter some Aristotelian mumbo jumbo about God being necessary or creating himself, but even so, he still wouldn't have anyone else to be proud of him or love him. He would be all alone.

In any event, there is a certain adulthood in recognizing that the parent is not there, in accepting that only oneself is there to oversee one's thoughts and actions.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stem Cells

If the argument against fetal stem cell research is based upon the view that destroying the embryo (as a result of conducting scientific experiments on it) is the taking of a person's life, then this assumes that it is murder. It also follows that destroying the embryo without using it for scientific experiments is murder. Similarly, the view that all abortion is murder follows (as long as you assume, as I do, that there is no successful defense against this implication based on the right of the mother not to have a parasite use her body.)

So, the argument against stem-cell research has to assume that the brainless cells in question are people, if the argument is about murder. This is a difficult position to maintain, given that many cells are similarly brainless yet not people: liver cells, skin cells. And these also can get brains with the cloning technology we will get in the future. Or, at least, the contingency of technological possibility there should not matter. Even if the technology is forever beyond us to clone a person with a brain from a liver cell, it is in principle possible, as possible as it is for an embryo to become such a being. In short, if brainless embryos are people, then all human cells are people. Both need certain conditions to bring about the fruition. Both have very similar, complex internal mechanisms that will bring it about under the respective conditions. That the embryo is an organism does not appear to be relevant.

On the other hand, in this connection the amount of medical research that could come from fetal stem cells is irrelevant if the embroy is a person. We may not kill people for medical research. So, the appeal to medical usefulness is misguided. Still, though it's misguided, it is aimed at a weak argument: that destroying a certain kind of cell is murder.

If, on the other hand, destroying an embryo is not murder, then neither is abortion in the stage before there is brain tissue. Perhaps, rather, the argument is that it is just immoral to destroy human organisms even when they are not yet people and do not yet have brains. This is a reasonable argument. There is something unseemly about destroying human fertilized eggs. It may even be immoral, after the fashion of buying great art, taking it home, and burning it for fun. But whether this should be illegal is hard to say. It's an open question, though I would not be in favor of this infringement of liberty when what is at stake morally is not clear but merely "unseemly."

To this argument, the medical usefulness of fetal stem cells is relevant. But again the argument from unseemliness is anything but clearly well-founded. Why bring up the extraneous matter of the usefulness of scientific research? How can you weigh the value of the future, unknown research against the value of keeping non-person human organisms alive? These are imponderables.

So, the debate is uninteresting to me. None of the arguments is interesting. Only one has obvious weight, namely, the argument that a cell without a brain is not a person and therefore cannot be murdered. So, I'm not interested in the topic. By all means, default to liberty here and oppose prohibitions on the research. And cutting off government funds is close enough to such a prohibition as long as our medical research system is as socialized as it is.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Sheesh. Just when I thought I'd seen enough moronitude, there's these guy's. You know, if you have a sense of humor that likes potty jokes, the Phil Hendrie Show, or pure piffle, I just don't know what to say about you. And yet I cannot look away.

Has this been said? The reason I'm an atheist is straightforward. The proposition that there is a god is as unlikely as ghosts, Martians amongst us, and reincarnation. There isn't the slightest evidence for these hypotheses which fly in the face of so much else that we know to be true. So I believe all of them to be false.

I admire religious belief in God. Most religions I find beautiful and noble.

And yet there are few atheists. And most atheists don't fancy religion.
Being Fun

Many, many years ago (2002 or 2003), blogger Michael Blowhard posted about something like this: Why are lefty/liberal types more fun?

It takes a bit of grit in the oyster to make a pearl. Lighten up. There's the rub.

The look on the face of the lefty/liberal says, "I'm not going to take the central task of life very seriously. In fact, I don't even have a grasp on it at all. I can relegate it to "be kind," and be done with it. Let's get on with enjoyments that are cut away from these encumbrances. In fact, I'm not even thinking of these encumbrances at all. Are you? I hardly feel them."

There is a set of dispositions, inclinations, that come to the fore when one unburdens oneself of conserving the precious heritage of virtue. They are exhilarating frequently exhilarating, unlike the sensations offered by the recreational intentions of the man who considers it to be the case that outside of the burden of conserving virtuous ways of life there is nothing else inspiring. They open up possibilities of behavior not likely considered by him. I'm not talking about porn and drugs. This has nothing to do with the titillation of immoral behavior. It has to do with the possibilities opened up by shattering the fragile edifice that is our traditional ways of life. There may be untold heights to be soared thence. Who knows? Go to a party of lefty's. Feel this.

What lies on the other side, however, may be more exhilarating: The prospect of a life well lived. (Of course, lefty folk can live lives well. But that is not their usual intention. Their usual intention is to enjoy life and to make a difference.) When your goal is a life well-lived, you tend to be less that exhilarating to meet. You offer no relief from the burden. You dwell in the hum-drum, where a life well-lived must dwell. Even if I am as conservative as you, you less often offer a moment's relief from my own burden than a lefty friend, who takes me outside the box right away, will do. I want grit. I want to say, "Aw, fuck it." You can't say that when you take your burden seriously. It's heavy. You can't lighten up.

Michael was right that more needs to be said about this.
Two More Things about Nihilism

Alright, I post about nihilism some. Okay, a lot. One of my fellow bloggers over at Right Reason (I hardly knew ye...) said I was a nihilist albeit a conservative. Anyways. Two points more.

The first is that a healthy (or more precisely, virtuous) adjustment to life requires, as they say, “not taking things too seriously.” It requires steeling oneself to the hard nocks of outrageous fortune. It requires equanimity and composure when most people would find it astonishing that one is able to exhibit them. It resembles the grizzled jadedness of the nihilist. You have to “take things in stride.” Again, as they say. They say these things because they’re right.

The loss of what matters most will happen. You must be able to take it. You must resemble the nihilist. He doesn’t care about it.

This resemblance is not merely superficial. Both virtue and nihilism understand that this is all there is. There is nothing else. You will not be bailed out. Virtue lies precisely in being able to produce an admirable life with the deeply flawed hand that reality deals us. The Pollyanna hasn’t the tools to produce virtue. Even the person whose expectations lie between the realist and the Pollyanna does not. When he gets hit with what he scoffed at as only worth the pessimist’s planning for, he is unable to produce an admirable response. But he shares with the realist an upbeat attitude nevertheless. Virtue is not pessimistic.

The other thing about nihilism is that, as I replied to my fellow blogger, I not only reject nihilism, but there is nothing that I would count as evidence that it is true. We have a large and coherent set of desires and there is a large set of ways of life that we find fulfilling of these desires. The desires are manifold and well-knit together, along with the ways forming culture. It is possible for many of us to succeed for the most part in exemplifying this culture, this fulfillment, in various ways peculiarly suited to our individual tastes. Given that fact, nothing counts as evidence that nihilism is so. Not death, not the absence of a god or afterlife. Nihilism is a confusion, therefore.