September 11, 2013
Diogenes of Synope was a funny Greek philosopher who used to wander the streets with a lantern in the daylight “in search of an honest man.” He was something of a hippie, as he spurned riches, reputation, and even hygiene. He also questioned patriotism and preferred to call himself a citizen of the world.
As I grow older, I find myself thinking more and more like Diogenes, at least insofar as I believe I could carry on a similar search for an honest man and never find one. Honesty is more than telling the truth. Honesty is the willingness to call a spade a spade, even when the full truth makes one look weak.
Lawyers might have a problem with this because they are paid to put the client’s “best case” before the court. They are paid to keep some bad information secret through the attorney-client privilege, to ignore inconvenient facts, and to make the other side’s “best case” look preposterous, even if it is the more likely truth. No doubt Diogenes would have a field day with lawyers.
Of course, lawyers do not necessarily handle the truth in such ways when clients, judges, and juries are not around. We lawyers have also usually been exposed at one point or another to the limitations of our knowledge. As young lawyers researching a legal question, we learn that even though we might discover a law on the books that apparently resolves our legal question, there might be another law out there stating that the just-discovered statute does not apply in certain situations. Since it is practically impossible to read every law out there to prove a negative (especially on the client’s dime), the lawyer must act with some degree of faith in his/her mentors, practice guide books, and even gut instinct. That degree of uncertainty should keep the lawyer’s attitude in check.
When dealing with coworkers and clients, however, lawyers must appear confident in spite of the fact that they might be wrong (even embarrassingly so). I can’t help but wonder if this bravado comes from society or if lawyers helped to contribute this approach to society, but it seems that virtually everyone in public life wants to focus on his or her argument, ignore or suppress all information counter to that argument, discredit all those who might question that argument, and reframe any opponent’s argument in a weaker way so that it is easier to overcome. This is probably not the best way for a curious listener to arrive at the truth—listening to multiple myopic, self-serving viewpoints and trying to sort between them.
The thesis/antithesis model of reasoning, where one honestly and readily admits the most powerful arguments opposing one’s argument during discourse, is far superior for everyone’s sake if one is to hope that the truth triumphs even to one’s own detriment. Sadly, we are usually not honest enough to hope that the truth prevails even though it crushes us. We could join Diogenes’ search, knowing full well that no one is brave enough or righteous enough to always admit the truth and expose his own frailty.
September 10, 2013
I would really enjoy discussing the definition of legal “rights” with these people. The Boulder Rights of Nature organization in Boulder, Colorado, seeks to establish rights belonging to nature itself as a means to protecting the environment. As a legal matter, it’s difficult to see how these “rights” could be enforced, given the lack of legal standing (one generally cannot sue to enforce someone else’s rights unless one has a special relationship with the other person, and since the rights here would be asserted against property owners to prevent them from “harming” the natural beings on their own property, it is difficult to conceive who besides the property owner could have that “special relationship”).
But leaving legal standing aside, this could get interesting if it gains any traction with the media. A few years ago, I wrote on this blog that the intentional killing of any human organism (including the pre-born) should be illegal, and a reader objected that I was imposing my religious beliefs on other people. He urged that one cannot grant “personhood” to an unborn human because other people do not believe that unborn humans are “persons.” I disagreed, of course, and argued that the granting of rights and “personhood” to a human being comports with justice and also is not religious. The Boulder Rights of Nature organization helps prove my point. That organization is not “religious” as far as I can tell. If a law granting “rights” to nature (the trees and flowers) is irreligious, a law granting rights to preborn humans is not religious, either.
In that vein, I especially love this quote from BRON’s proposed draft Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance:
While not eliminating property ownership, these new laws seek to eliminate the authority of a property owner to destroy, or cause substantial harm to, natural communities and ecosystems that exist and depend upon that property.
Could we not draft a similar law stating, “while not eliminating a woman’s dominion over her own body, this new law seeks to eliminate the authority of a person to destroy, or cause substantial harm to, natural human organisms that exist and depend upon her body”? Are preborn humans less deserving of protection than trees? If the Sustainable Rights of Nature Ordinance is not inherently unjust, could a law preventing the intentional killing of innocent preborn humans ever be unjust?
August 30, 2013
So, why do you care about the behavior of others? Where you are not concerned, why care about others having abortions, gay marriage, prayers in public school (or at high school football games in Texas), therapy for minors with unwanted same sex attraction, racial discrimination that does not harm you, laws in other states or countries, or anything else that would not affect your life specifically and personally?
Should any of us care about the plight of another so much that we would interfere with that person’s life (or the lives of those around them) through legal compulsion? The answer seems to be “yes,” if we love justice, but who is this “we”? Should “we” interfere with the behavior of others through our town’s local law, our state law, or our federal law, or leave law out of it and resort to other methods? (One could “interfere” with the behavior of others without using law, via boycott or shunning.) It seems more intuitively acceptable for us to interfere with or regulate the behavior in our own community based on our moral inclinations about the good of our community. One’s interest in the behavior of the people in far away places seems more attenuated.
To push this point even further, should “we” as a society (small or large scale) interfere with other societies? Can the people of Los Angeles decide they’ve had enough of the ridiculous laws in San Francisco and try to do something about it? Yes, the people of Los Angeles lack jurisdiction to do anything about what happens in San Francisco, but the United States has no more jurisdiction over anything in the Middle East, yet there “we” are, interfering…
It strikes me that this is absolutely not a conservative or liberal question. Conservatives will interfere with your ability to smoke pot. Liberals will interfere with your ability to smoke a cigarette in a public restaurant. Each will claim the high ground of “freedom” on one issue while claiming the high ground of “morality” on the other. ”Freedom” is just another buzz word like “equality” and “democracy” that people only invoke for convenience and sound bites, not because they are actually committed to those ideals. It is the same with foreign policy. Conservatives and liberals will walk the line between “respecting the sovereignty of other nations” and “taking a stand for the cause of justice” depending on the values or interests at stake in a policy decision.
So, do you care about the behavior of other people so much that you want to interfere societally? Do you want to interfere with other societies (and do you want your own government to interfere in other societies for you)? No doubt, there are numerous moral tragedies happening around the world right now and we are doing nothing about them. Yet when discussing instances of interference in the past (like fighting the Nazis in WWII), people point to how evil the situation/government was to justify the U.S.’s behavior. Wouldn’t that be like the people of Los Angeles pointing to how bad the laws of San Francisco are as justification for interference? That doesn’t hold water unless we are going to distinguish between types of “bad” laws (whether a difference in kind or degree). Certainly some silly laws that drive away small businesses in San Francisco would not justify usurping the authority of the San Francisco local government through force.
What kind of laws (if any) should invite the scrutiny and interference from other governments that have no jurisdiction? What kind of behavior from other people in your community or neighboring communities invites your own scrutiny and legal interference? Is there a difference between attempting to interfere (through force of law in matters in which you have no direct interest) with the behavior of your neighbor, or someone in a neighboring town, or someone in another state, or someone in another country?
If government A can usurp government B’s authority through force based on the bad laws of government B, can government B do the same to government A? If government A is too strong for that, doesn’t that make government A a self-appointed “benevolent tyrant”? What happens when government A turns bad and ignores its own unjust laws? Would the citizens of the country of government A look kindly on the interference from the weaker government B?
America (and particularly the federal government in America) is government A.
August 13, 2013
Elysium is a thinly-veiled promotion of a rather liberal political agenda, especially with respect to immigration and healthcare reform. One can gather that quickly by watching the movie or reading the reviews of moviegoers on yahoo. But I would have enjoyed the movie anyway if it had been more complete.
Sorry to spoil the rather unoriginal and predictable plot, but here it is in all its simplicity: 150 years into the future, our planet Earth is ruined by overpopulation and poverty such that the entire earth looks like a third world country. Everyone in LA speaks Spanish and/or is Hispanic. The elite of the world (wealthy, intelligent, educated, etc.), build a huge space station called “Elysium” to, and I quote, “preserve their way of life” (though the film does little if anything to show what that “way of life” looks like; we are supposed to assume it’s ideal with whatever that might mean to us–kind of like Heaven, I suppose). Elysium has free (and perfect) healthcare in the form of body-scanning machines that can heal a person from essentially every malady short of complete death (it can even do reconstructive facial surgery and restore someone who had his face blown off by an explosive, looking good as new after the healthcare scan). To get the bodyscan, a person needs both to be on Elysium and be a citizen of Elysium. They refer to all non-citizens as “illegals,” and Jodie Foster’s character heads up a group called “Homeland Security” (yes, the metaphor is that obvious) to protect Elysium from intruders, but the dark-skinned “president” essentially undermines the Homeland Security efforts, leading Foster’s evil character to stage a coup to protect Elysium. Meanwhile, Matt Damon’s character lives on earth, gets sick, has 5 days to live, and needs to get to Elysium to get that body scan to heal himself as well as his friend’s daughter, who has leukemia.
There was potential for this movie but they didn’t explore the pertinent questions arising out of such a plotline nearly enough.
For instance, were the people on Elysium happy in their isolated (and supposedly trouble-free) world? What was life like for them? Did they at least have “first world problems“, or was this a symbolic utopia of sorts?
Was it immoral for the citizens of Elysium to build Elysium at the outset and/or to take the best and brightest from the world and stick them up in Elysium? (If so, it’s likewise immoral for America to allow the best and brightest of other nations to emmigrate to the U.S., contributing to brain-drain in third world countries, which could actually mean permitting unlimited immigration would sometimes be immoral, not benevolent).
Is the existence of Elysium itself (or the imbalance of wealth in any closed system) an instance of injustice? If it didn’t exist at all, apparently no one would have healthcare, unless the best and brightest of Elysium were somehow forced into providing healthcare to everyone everywhere (and how would we force them to do so without paying them–making them elite, the kind of elitists that we from the outset held were an example of injustice–or forcing slavery, which we also find disgusting?).
To put that last question another way, more broadly: is it unjust that Oprah owns eight homes while I only rent one (and some people are entirely homless, or living with multiple families in the same dwelling)? Is an imbalance of wealth itself an inherent injustice? Is it immoral anytime any of us earns more than the median world salary (a small number that will shock your conscience) and fails to donate the entire surplus to those below that line to even things up? Isn’t this movie saying that the general imbalance of resources and happiness between Earth and Elysium is in itself immoral (notwithstanding that everybody who helped make that movie likely lives an extravagant lifestyle, at least from a world-wide perspective)? If the movie is saying that, does it not also suggest by implication that we are a nation of hypocrites and psychopaths, but not much else?
Were there scarce health-care resources on Elysium, such that the masses on Earth would consume up the health-care “machines”, creating an underclass of the unhealthy anyway? If there was no such scarcity, why did the people on Elysium keep those machines from being delivered to earth rather than sending reproductions (or even just one or two) of these impersonal machines (which apparently did not even need maintenance or a personal expert to operate, or at least the movie did not indicate such a need)? Were the citizens of Elysium presumed to be psychopaths with nothing but contempt for all outsiders (and in fact a positive desire to harm or starve outsiders), rather than protectors of their limited goods? (Even in wealthy America, we participate in and fund global relief efforts, however effective or ineffective that may be.) If the citizens of Elysium were that evil, shouldn’t we just blow the whole edifice up rather than allow these Stalin-like creatures to continue profiting from building such machines? Or would we disapprove of forcing them to labor on our behalf here on “Earth” (the third world country)?
Additionally, as a somewhat irrelevant side note, imagine how long the wait lines would be on an overpopulated earth seeking to exploit the machines that were built only to serve an elite few rather than billions. Can the machines break from overuse? Will people harm each other to cut in line? Will the gate-keepers of the line allow their friends and family a place of privilege so that they get the best machines and spend the smallest amount of time in line? These machines are unlikely to turn the third world Earth cesspool into a utopia just through healthcare. At least, the problems of poverty and crime would still persist.
There are just way too many unanswered questions. This movie might have been an ambitious mini-series on TV, and I would love to have seen these issues explored (even if with a liberal or other agenda), but the movie fails to deliver in an intellectually-satisfying way. That’s unfortunate.
Update: It just occurred to me, this movie could be seen (ironically) as a pro-life metaphorical argument. The citizens of “earth” could be unborn humans, whereas the elites on Elysium could be people who have been born. The people on Elysium (metaphors for mothers) are entirely in control of whether the earthlings (metaphors for unborn babies) can have healthcare and live. However, the earthlings pose a threat to the comfortable way of living for those on Elysium, and the citizens of Elysium want to “preserve their way of life.” When someone from earth finally “gets through” against the will of those on Elysium (say, for example, a child of a failed abortion), that person fights with all his/her might to end the denial of life for the earthlings. In this interpretation, the movie metaphor wouldn’t even go far enough, because mothers and their unborn babies have a far more intimate (and morally obligatory) relationship than that between the citizens of Elysium and Earth.
July 21, 2013
Would you vote for a politician running in an election if he/she agreed with your political beliefs in all respects except one, and that one exception was that he/she was in favor of, say, race-based slavery?
I pose this question because some media types say that Republicans should get away from the “social issues” which concern religious voters. I’ve also heard Republicans refer to problematic “single issue voters” who would not vote for Republicans who were (for example) pro-choice. Now, if you believe that abortion is in fact the killing of an innocent human being, these Republicans and media types are treating your views as subordinate, uring you to compromise. But I’m going to ask again, with a different example:
If a politician espouses all of your views except one, the exception being his/her desire to initiate state-sponsored killing of the terminally ill and elderly (keep in mind, you will likely one day be elderly) because such people increase national healthcare costs, would you vote for that politician? If your answer is “no,” perhaps you don’t think it’s such a bad thing to be a “single issue voter”.
There was once a famous Methodist evangelist named Peter Cartwright was known for his uncompromising preaching. However, one day Andrew Jackson the President of the United States came to worship there.
Cartwright was known for his plain speaking, and the church elders warned him not to offend the President.
But when Cartwright got up to speak, the first words out of his mouth were, ”I understand that President Andrew Jackson is here this morning. I have been requested to be very guarded in my remarks. Let me say this: Andrew Jackson will go to hell if he doesn’t repent of his sin!”
The entire congregation gasped with shock. How could this young preacher dare to offend the tough old general in public? they wondered.
After the service, everyone wondered how the President would respond to Cartwright. When Andrew Jackson met the preacher at the door he looked at him in the eye and said, “Sir, If I had a regiment of men like you, I could conquer the world!”
I don’t know if this anecdote is precisely accurate, but I find it thought-provoking nonetheless.
How much respect should religious people give government leaders? Is it a great thing when pastors or other leaders in the religious community stay politically neutral or treat politicians/issues with kid-gloves to avoid offending parishoners or the general public? If all pastors took that approach, would the anti-slavery or civil rights movements have succeeded when they did?
We could take this a step further beyond the government. Do private CEOs deserve a “pass” for the activities of their companies? Is it a good thing or a bad thing when religious leaders make any effort to avoid offending parishoners?
This is not to say that religious leaders should abandon all tact and start casting out wild, speculative political accusations under the cover of an assertion like “I will not try to avoid offending people,” but perhaps we need more challenging, thought-provoking religious discourse even when it steps on the toes of political figures.
July 2, 2013
What a creepy and thought-provoking picture:
Yes, kids used to utter the Pledge of Allegiance with this Nazi-style salute. Another blogger posits that the pledge was originally drafted by a socialist and was designed to propagandize children into pledging that they will follow their government.
For the record, I don’t think there’s any merit to the common objection to the phrase “under God” in the pledge, at least from a Constitutional standpoint. As far as that objection goes, no one is forced to say the pledge (if a school punished a child for not saying it, that would be a problem), and if a parent objects then he/she should consider a number of options: teaching one’s child to abstain from saying the pledge, visiting a school board meeting to raise the issue, and/or seeking another school or an alternate educational arrangement. If nobody else in your community cares about your complaint, your child is going to end up in an environment of such people and such worldviews regardless whether the pledge is spoken. The pledge (and the phrase “under God”) is not the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem that will never go away. Communities and schools always have unspoken worldviews and I see little in the Constitution that mandates that communities be prevented from expressing those worldviews through their public institutions (they are going to do so anyway, it’s unavoidable).
Anyway, back to my point: is pledging allegiance a good thing? Isn’t that like writing a blank check to the government, promising to follow regardless of whatever evil thing it might do? Sure, some of us would resist an evil governmental action, but for the regular duty-following folk, a lifetime of stating the pledge of allegiance may have fostered some problematic inner attitudes (such as intolerance for dissent against the government).
For you monotheists out there (Christians/Jews/Muslims), is the pledge a form of idolatry? Should Christians, as “strangers in a foreign land,” pledge allegiance to any government?
June 23, 2013
An article by Greg Koukl provides some insight into the idea of “tolerance”:
“Egalitarian” was a new word for them. “Think equal,” I said. “Treat others as having equal standing in value or worth.” They knew what an elitist was, though, someone who thought he or she was better than others. “Right,” I said. “When you are elitist regarding ideas, you are acknowledging that some ideas are better than others; and they are. We don’t treat all ideas as if they have the same merit, lest we run into contradiction. Some ideas are good. Some are bad. Some are true. Some are false. Some are brilliant. Others are just plain foolish.”
The first principle, what might be called “civility,” is at the heart of the classical view of tolerance. It can be loosely equated with the word “respect.” Tolerance applies to how we treat people we disagree with, not how we treat ideas we think are false. We respect those who hold different beliefs from our own by treating such people courteously and allowing their views a place in the public discourse. We may strongly disagree with their ideas and vigorously contend against them in the public square, but we still show respect to their persons despite our differences. Classic tolerance requires that every person be treated courteously with the freedom to express his or her ideas without fear of reprisal no matter what the view, not that all views have equal worth, merit, or truth.
. . . The view that one person’s ideas are no better or truer than another’s is simply absurd and inescapably self-contradictory. To argue that some views are false, immoral, or just plain silly does not violate any meaningful definition or standard of tolerance.
In other words, to paraphrase philosopher Peter Kreeft, we should be egalitarian with respect to people and elitist with respect to ideas, but never vice-versa.
June 13, 2013
Just a thought experiment, roll with me…
What if, in the American Civil War era, it was the North that insisted upon permitting slavery whereas the South opposed slavery? So, in that vein, let’s say that the northern states began to seek to impose pro-slavery or slavery-compromising legislation upon the southern states through the federal government and supreme court, and then the southern states seceded from the United States on the grounds that they would not permit the northern states to impose their unjust pro-slavery national laws upon them. The southern states create a confederacy which will protect each state’s ability to outlaw slavery (or not) and no other state will be able to impose legalized slavery upon them.
First question: in this situation, would you prefer that the confederates (southerners) win the civil war rather than the union northerners? In other words, would you root for the pro-slavery north or the anti-slavery south?
Second question: if we took away the issue of slavery altogether, would you prefer confederacy or our current federal government? What’s better, each state left to decide its own fate, or a national government deciding once for all?
Now, in this hypothetical, keep in mind that if you said you prefer a strong federal government, someone listening might call you a “racist” for supporting a form of government that once supported slavery.
Just a thought…
September 22, 2012
It’s election season, and I feel accosted by bad political arguments from all sides through television and the internet. I offer this as a public service announcement, a guide for spotting typical bad arguments (largely copied from Wikipedia’s list of fallacies):
Red herring – irrelevant argument given in response to another argument to draw attention away from the subject of argument.
Ad hominem – attacking the arguer instead of the argument.
Poisoning the well – a type of ad hominem where adverse information about a target is presented with the intention of discrediting everything that the target person says.
Appeal to emotion – where an argument is made due to the manipulation of emotions, rather than the use of valid reasoning.
Appeal to spite – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made through exploiting people’s bitterness or spite towards an opposing party.
Appeal to fear – a specific type of appeal to emotion where an argument is made by increasing fear and prejudice towards the opposing side.
Appeal to pity – an argument attempts to induce pity to sway opponents.
Appeal to accomplishment – where an assertion is deemed true or false based on the accomplishments of the proposer.
Appeal to motive – where a premise is dismissed by calling into question the motives of its proposer.
Appeal to wealth/poverty – supporting or refuting a conclusion because the arguer is wealthy or poor.
Appeal to novelty – where a proposal is claimed to be superior or better solely because it is new or modern.
Chronological snobbery – where a thesis is deemed incorrect because it was commonly held when something else, clearly false, was also commonly held.
Straw man – an argument based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position.
Mob appeal – where a proposition is claimed to be true or good solely because many people believe it to be so.
Admit it, we’ve all made these arguments and we’ve all been duped by them at various times. The important thing is to try to avoid it.