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.
September 5, 2012
Subsection (a): “Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”
Subsection (b) provides an exception for abortion consented to by the mother.
1. Murder only applies to killing a human, not an animal or non-human.
2. If a man walks up to a woman and, say, cuts off her arm (or any other bodily “tissue”) but it does not result in her death, it is not murder.
3. A man who walks up to an unsuspecting pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, intentionally killing her unborn child but not killing the mother, has committed murder under the statute, even if she had planned on getting an abortion. It is not merely a tort or the crime of assault and battery; it is murder.
4. If the man punches a woman who is not pregnant in the stomach, it is not murder, and if he punches a pregnant woman in the stomach but it does not kill the fetus, it is not murder.
5. If the pregnant woman punches herself in the stomach and kills her fetus, or if she asks a man to punch her in the stomach to intentionally cause the death of the fetus, it is not murder.
So, killing an animal or cutting off a human appendage is not murder, and killing a human being is murder. Killing a fetus is also murder, except when a pregnant woman decides for whatever reason that her fetus belongs with the categories of “animal” or “human appendage” rather than “human being”.
As written, subsection (b) of section 187 is logically consistent with subsection (a) because subsection (a) expressly does not apply if subsection (b) applies. However, can the exception philosophically be reconciled with the rule? On what basis may a fetus be deemed the equivalent of a human being based on the intent of another person? Can a person truly decide and declare, based on any reason or no reason at all (i.e. randomly), whether another person is in fact a person or the equivalent of a person worthy of legal protection? Does it make sense that it’s murder to kill someone else’s fetus, even if that person planned on getting an abortion anyway? When would that fetus transfer from “human being” back to discardable tissue? When mom makes up or changes her mind (unless someone else decides for her without her consent)?
It’s one thing to attempt to justify legal abortions on the ground that an unborn child is not a legal person or the equivalent thereof. But wouldn’t that mean section 187 is incoherent? Would one prefer, in the name of consistency, to rewrite section 187 to honor the argument that unborn persons are not in fact persons, thereby recasting and/or reducing the criminal sanction against a man who walks up to a random pregnant woman and punches her in the stomach, causing an abortion? Is a “wanted child” more worthy of personhood and legal protection against killing than an “unwanted child”? Why?
August 31, 2012
I was in the car with my niece yesterday and noticed two children wearing helmets ride by on their bikes. I mentioned to my niece that when I was a boy, I rode my bike around town without a helmet because they were not required. That prompted her very insightful question: “Why do they call America ‘free’ when there are a thousand laws?”
A “thousand” laws is a very modest estimate. Ask any CPA about the complicated tax code. Add to that the problems of the thousands of vague or unenforced laws, as noted by James Madison among the many threats to liberty:
“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what the law is today can guess what it will be tomorrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?”
– James Madison, Federalist no. 62, February 27, 1788
The helmet law is probably clearly written, but it is one of so many ever-changing laws that I couldn’t tell you for sure. My niece’s question stands. Can we continue to call our nation “free” when we live under a nanny state with an ever-increasing library of statutory requirements and interpretations?
August 20, 2012
According to the U.S. Census bureau, in 1790 the United States had 3.9 million persons in 13 states from Maine to South Carolina. New York City had a population of 33,000.
Today, the nation has 308 million people, and New York City has a population of 8.2 million. In other words, the Mayor of New York answers to more than double the constituents that George Washington did as President of the United States at the time the Constitution was ratified.
A small number of people produced a great document that currently governs a far greater number of people. However, at the time that the Constitution was passed, the government was necessarily closer to its people because each representative had a much smaller constituency to please. Has the nation out-grown the constitution, not in principles but in sheer representative force? No doubt the refrain “I’m going to write a letter to my Congressman” carries even less weight than it used to. Should the states be divided up for federal purposes, so that perhaps even each county receives a senator?
While such a change may sound radical and unfathomable, it might pose a beneficial check to the dual-party system imposed on the nation.
August 14, 2012
I was at the grocery store and found that a popular charcoal company has introduced a new line of “100% all natural competition briquettes”. This raises a question for me. Why would this charcoal, as opposed to the regular charcoal from the same company, be considered “natural”? (As an aside, ordinary charcoal briquettes have chemical fillers in them that hold them together, in addition to charcoal made from carbonizing wood.) Even the chemical fillers in the regular charcoal are “natural” in the sense that they exist in nature (they are not “supernatural”). Why do consumers find the adjective “natural” so impressive in commercial products?
People seem to harbor the idea that “natural” means “before we humans messed with it,” as though humans tend to mess things up. Honey is considered “natural” even though bees make it, so I don’t think “natural” as the word is used here simply means “something that was not made through the activity of some other organism.” Humans are the targeted organism. Things that humans make are not considered “natural” even if they are made from natural elements (as in the elements on the periodic table in chemistry class) with implements made from natural elements. What is different about human production of food products as opposed to the honey production of a bee?
Could it be that we all know, at some intuitive level, that humans deliberate and make free choices, and those choices are subject to flaws? Perhaps we also know that human choices in particular are more prone to error than the instinctual activity of a honey-making bee because humans have a tainted will, and they make choices they know are wrong for personal gain?
To believe that, of course, one must believe in free will, if not also a fallen nature and the concept of “wrong” or “selfish” choices, right? Can one avoid the implied presence of some supernatural quality in humans? Can atheists have any philosophical justification for using the term “natural” on charcoal bags and the like?
While I found myself wearied of debating people on the internet (both here and even more so on other websites), I have found myself more and more simply wanting to pose philosophical questions to the world, just in case anyone is listening. Keeping up with current events and writing about them as frequently as possible won’t be the focus so much. So here goes…
Is it possible, or even beneficial, for a person to hold different political beliefs at different levels of government?
For example, whether one wanted to socialize medicine or continue the ban on marijuana use, couldn’t a person believe (and vote accordingly) that such measures are better decided at lower levels of government than the national level, and thus vote for libertarian-minded politicians (desiring little governmental regulation of anything) at the federal level and liberals (desiring mostly governmental support on social and economic issues) or conservatives (desiring mostly government support on social issues and deregulation on economic issues) at local levels?
Thus, one might vote against federal politicians who promise government aid to students and universities while voting for local politicians who promise to increase funding to local community colleges. One might be in favor of an increased state-wide minimum wage law while opposing the federal minimum wage altogether. One might vote against federal politicians who promise to continue the war on drugs while voting for a state proposition banning the possession of marijuana–or even a community ordinance prohibiting all cigarette use.
Ultimately, if you always vote the same way at all levels, you may be focused on the ends and ignoring the question of the appropriate means. Maybe it would be a great thing to have socialized medicine or a ban on marijuana in one state while permitting decreased regulations on medical insurance or legalized marijuana in another. If people in one state grow envious of the other for whatever reason, they could make an educated and informed decision on that policy. Or maybe one state’s policy works great for that state, but wouldn’t work in another state.
Some issues are necessarily federal (like national defense and whether we will wage war), but should all issues be decided on as high a level as possible, regardless of the issue?
May 7, 2010
A professor in the economics department at George Mason University has assembled a fantastic collection of quotes from central figures in American history regarding individual liberty and limited government. Many of those quotes reflect a skepticism of the character of man. While unregulated man might make evil choices, the governor with power over him is (allegedly) prone to even greater evil choices, and those choices will affect everyone. Here is a sampling of the quotes that reflect this view:
[I]nstituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States . . . would be also a power to do whatever evil they please.”
– Thomas Jefferson
“All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.”
– James Madison in The Federalist
”No man is good enough to govern another man without that other’s consent.”
– Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854
“We still find the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry, and grasping at the spoil of the multitude. Invention is continually exercised to furnish new pretenses for revenue and taxation. It watches prosperity as its prey and permits none to escape without a tribute.”
– Thomas Paine
While I don’t share the view that government ought not regulate anything but the harm principle (the strict libertarian perspective), I share the view that man is so fallen that absolute power will always corrupt him. Thus, limited government is a necessity for all, and the best way to limit it is to decentralize it as much as possible. The greater the centralization, the greater the eventual evil.
April 4, 2010
I should’ve posted this yesterday, but I’ve always found it a beautiful and insightful description of what this weekend is about. From Valleys Fill First by Caedmon’s Call:
And it’s like that long Saturday between your death and
the rising day
When no one wrote a word, wondered is this the end
But you were down there in the well, saving those that fell
Bringing them to the mountain again
One can only wonder how the disciples felt, what went through their minds, the devastating questions they faced, that Saturday before Sunday came with the message: He is Risen.
April 3, 2010
Advocates of hate crimes legislation might do well to listen to the warnings of conservatives and libertarians alike, lest they sacrifice the freedom of speech:
Shawn Holes was in Scotland with a group of American colleagues preaching on a wide variety of topics.
“I was talking generally about Christianity and sin”, he said.
He continued: “I only talked about these other issues because I was specifically asked.
“There were homosexuals listening – around six or eight – who were kissing each other and cuddling, and asking ‘What do you think of this?’”
He responded to questions from the crowd about homosexuality. He affirmed that everyone, including homosexuals, needed to receive Christ as Saviour.
Mr Holes later commented: “It felt like a set-up by gay campaigners.”
The preacher was arrested on 18 March in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.
Holes was kept in a police cell overnight and then charged with “breach of the peace” on the accusation that he had used “homophobic remarks” (like those found in the Bible) that were “aggravated by religious prejudice.” He was ultimately fined £1,000 for exercising his God-given liberties his infraction.