Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Morality (page 1 / 1)

Some Precaution on Pence’s Precautionary Principles →

On the subject of Vice-President Pence's unwillingness to be alone with women other than his wife, I think Sarah Skwire makes a very good point.

It’s a cliché, but a true one, to note that the real work of many professions gets done at the bar or on quick lunches or dinner grabbed with a colleague, outside the formal constraints of official meetings. When that cliché is true, and to the extent that it is true, precautions like Pence’s, that cut women out from that kind of social interaction, also cut them off from at least one route to success.

Sauce for the Goose

I wonder, then, whether Pence and others who guard themselves in this way would consider extending their prohibitions on such private meetings with opposite gender colleagues to colleagues of the same gender. In other words, if Mike Pence won’t allow himself to meet with female colleagues for a casual private dinner or drink, then perhaps he should consider disallowing interactions like that with male colleagues as well.

I think, at a minimum, that considering that possibility will tell us a lot. If your immediate reaction to that suggestion is to think that it would be unfairly restrictive to men to tell them not to go golfing alone with the Vice President, or join him for an impromptu cheeseburger, or take advantage of a quick trip on a private jet in order to get to know him better and pitch him a few ideas…then maybe that policy is even more unfair when it is applied only to women.

If it is unreasonable to think that a woman’s career is damaged because the VP won’t meet with her privately, then it is unreasonable to think a man’s career would be damaged for the same reason. If it is not unreasonable to think that such restrictions damage a woman’s career, then Pence owes it to his female colleagues and constituents to ensure that their male counterparts don’t have better access to him than they do.

It is, at least, worth thinking about seriously.

When Tribes Have Different Moral Standards →

Earlier this year, Russ Roberts interviewed Joshua Greene, on the topic of how to solve dilemmas arising from people having different moral standards. Greene led off with a morality tale about differing tribes, with different moral standards.

[I]magine that there's this large forest. And all around this large forest are many different tribes. And these different tribes are all cooperative, but they are cooperative on different terms.

So, on the one side you might have your communist herders who say, "Not only are we going to have a common pasture; we're just going to have a common herd, and that's how everything gets aligned. Everything is about us".

And on the other side of the forest you might have the individualist herders who say, "Not only are we not going to have common herds; we are not going to have a common pasture. We are going to privatize the pasture, divide it up; and everybody's responsible for their own piece of land. And our cooperation will consist in everybody's respecting each other's property rights. As opposed to sharing a common pasture".

And you can imagine any number of arrangements in between. And there are other dimensions along which tribes can vary. So, they vary in what I call their proper nouns, so that is: Which leaders or religious texts or traditions have authority to govern daily life in the tribe? And tribes may respond differently to threats and outsiders. Some may be relatively laissez faire about people who break the rules. Other people may be incredibly harsh. Some tribes will be very hostile to outsiders; others may be more welcoming. All different ways the tribes can achieve cooperation on different terms. They are all dotted around this large forest.

And then the parable continues: One hot, dry summer, lightning strikes and there's a forest fire and the forest burns to the ground. And then the rains come and suddenly there is this lovely green pasture in the middle. And all the tribes look at that pasture and say, 'Hmmm, nice pasture.' And they all move in.

So now we have in this common space all of these different tribes that are cooperative in different ways, cooperative on different terms, with different leaders, with different ideals, with different histories, all trying to exist in the same space. And this is the modern tragedy. This is the modern moral problem. That is, it's not a problem of turning a bunch of 'me-s' into an 'us.' That's the basic problem of the tragedy of the commons. It's about having a bunch of different us-es all existing in the same place, all moral in their own way, but with different conceptions of what it means to be moral.

I thought it was a good illustration of why I think that there should be a small, central government with very few areas of responsibility and many local governments, with much greater areas of responsibility. People will disagree about what forms of behavior are moral and just. They should be free to live in communities that reflect their values, without being forced to live according to the beliefs of whichever groups outnumber them.

Why I'm Teaching My Son To Break the Law →

J.D. Tuccille, writing at Reason.com:

My wife and I used it as a starting point for telling our seven-year-old why we don't expect him to obey the law—that laws and the governments that pass them are often evil. We expect him, instead, to stand up for his rights and those of others, and to do good, even if that means breaking the law.

Read the whole thing.

Is Income Inequality Unfair? →

From Scott Rasmussen, at Real Clear Politics:

For most Americans, the context is very important. If a CEO gets a huge paycheck after his company received a government bailout, that’s a problem. People who get rich through corporate welfare schemes are seen as suspect. On the other hand, 86 percent believe it’s fair for people who create very successful companies to get very rich.

In other words, it’s not just the income; it’s whether the reward matched the effort. People don’t think it’s a problem that Steve Jobs got rich. After all, he created Apple Computer and the iPad generation. But there was massive outrage about the bonuses paid to AIG executives after that company was propped up by the federal government.

Income inequality isn't unjust unless the income was ill gotten gains. Our goal as a society shouldn't be to stamp out income inequality. It should be to stamp out crony capitalism that allows people to get rich through connections instead of requiring them to get rich through innovation that makes the rest of us richer.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: The Shame of Three Strikes Laws →

From Matt Taibbi, at Rolling Stone:

Despite the passage in late 2012 of a new state ballot initiative that prevents California from ever again giving out life sentences to anyone whose "third strike" is not a serious crime, thousands of people – the overwhelming majority of them poor and nonwhite – remain imprisoned for a variety of offenses so absurd that any list of the unluckiest offenders reads like a macabre joke, a surrealistic comedy routine.

Have you heard the one about the guy who got life for stealing a slice of pizza? Or the guy who went away forever for lifting a pair of baby shoes? Or the one who got 50 to life for helping himself to five children's videotapes from Kmart? How about the guy who got life for possessing 0.14 grams of meth? That last offender was a criminal mastermind by Three Strikes standards, as many others have been sentenced to life for holding even smaller amounts of drugs, including one poor sap who got the max for 0.09 grams of black-tar heroin.

Justice should be blind but it shouldn't be deaf, dumb, and stupid too. Shame on the politicians who passed these laws and more shame on the voters who supported them. I was one. As a kid, I thought Three Strikes and mandatory sentencing guidelines were a great idea to crack down on soft judges. I was wrong. These laws are wrong. And the people unjustly imprisoned for long sentences deserve release, apology, and restitution.

All Laws Legislate Morality

It's popular these days to say that "you can't legislate morality". I've even said it a time or two myself. But is it true?

I read an article a couple of days ago that challenged my thinking on that question: Why We Can't Help But Legislate Morality. In it, Micah Watson argues that morality underlies every law that's passed.

It is of course true that some laws will be better conceived than others, and many may fail entirely to achieve their purpose. But that they have a purpose, and that the purpose includes at least an implicit moral element, is incontrovertible. One need only ask of any law or action of government, "What is the law for?" The answer at some point will include a conception of what is good for the community in which the law holds. The inversion of the question makes the point even more clearly. What would provide a rationale for a law or governmental action apart from a moral purpose?

...

Of course, some choices will fall within the discretion of a polity's citizens. Not every decision has profound moral consequences. But even drawing the line between morally innocent choices and morally culpable choices demonstrates our moral understanding. Abraham Lincoln made this clear in his debates with Stephen Douglas when he noted that Douglas' professed ambivalence about whether states voted for or against slavery showed that he did not think slavery belonged in that category of actions that are truly morally wrong. If you don't care which way a state votes on slavery, then you clearly don't view it as a horrendous moral evil. Rather, you treat it like a state lottery: it is fine if the people want it and vote for it, and it is fine if they don't.

The logic of morals, then, means that there can be no right to do a wrong. Built into the notion of wrong is the corresponding truth that an authority is right to punish perpetrators of the wrong. The idea that government can act as a neutral arbitrator between competing notions of the good life is ultimately incoherent because the idea itself promotes an underlying conception that this arrangement will lead to the best state of affairs.

Every one acts on their understanding of what is moral -- what is best for society. People advocate for higher or lower taxes because of a belief that the rich either need to bear more of the burden or that people are entitled to keep what they've created. People advocate for more or less international trade because they either believe that it's more moral to buy from others no matter where they're located or they believe that it's more moral to buy from your own countrymen. Morality underlies all laws.

The true question is not whether or not a law is legislating morality. The true question is whether that moral issue is critical enough to justify creating a law against it.

This entry was tagged. Morality Philosophy

Health care is not a human right

This morning I saw a new Facebook poll: "Is Health Care a Human Right?". I voted no.

Do you have a right to health care? Yes. And no. My answer ultimately depends on what you mean by a "right" to health care.

Rights come in two varieties: negative and positive. A negative right can be thought of as the right to be left alone. It's the right to do something without the fear that someone else will restrain you. A positive right can be thought of as the right to be served. While a negative right requires only that someone leave you in peace, a positive right requires that someone actively do something for you.

I believe you have the right to work with the doctor of your choice -- whether or not that doctor has been credentialed by a government.

I believe you have the right to take the drugs of your choice -- whether or not those drugs have been approved by a government panel of experts. I believe you have the right to take experimental cancer drugs, especially as a last ditch attempt to save your life. I believe you have the right to take marijuana to treat pain, to build appetite, and to relax.

I believe you have the right to buy insurance from any company, located in any state, covering any combination of conditions. I belive you shouldn't be limited to only the health insurance that covers a government approved list of condition from a government approved list of companies.

I believe in a strong negative right to health care. That's something that doesn't really exist in America today. Right now, you are not free to receive health care from anyone you trust, you are not free to take the drugs of your choice, and you are not free to buy whatever health care you desire. I am in favor of more freedom in health care. I believe you have a right to consume health care as you see fit, even if the majority of people around you disagree with your decisions. That's freedom.

I don't believe you have a right to force someone else to pay for treatment, medications, or medical supplies. I don't believe you have a right to force a doctor to work with you. It's one thing if you and the doctor can come to a mutual agreement regarding pay and hours of availability. It's something else entirely to require a doctor to treat you at a price of your choosing (not his) and at a time of your choosing (not his). I don't believe you have a positive right to health care.

To be blunt, I don't believe you have a right to turn doctors into slaves (by requiring them to treat for free or at a steep discount) or a right to turn your fellow citizens into slaves (by requiring them to work in order to pay the bills for your health care).

The current discussion of health care rights revolves almost entirely around positive rights -- getting someone else to pay for our health care. It includes an "exchange" that would strictly limit the options available. It includes subsidies forcibly taken from some people through taxes and used to pay for someone else's health care.

It includes a requirement for insurance companies to charge everyone the same price for health care. This practice, known as community rating, allows sicker people to pay less than the cost of their care and requires healthier people to pay more. In effect, community rating is a subsidy to the sick courtesy of the healthy. Community rated health care is a very bad deal for young, healthy individuals. So the current discussion revolves around a health care mandate. Most of the plans under consideration would require young people to purchase something that's a bad deal. They would be required to do this solely to provide a good deal to sick people and the elderly.

Claiming a positive right to health care is nothing more nor less than the claiming the right to enslave your fellow man. I don't believe you have that right.

Diversity in Ratings

Scene Stealer - The Web Is Pouncing on Hollywood's Ratings - NYTimes.com

The standard Hollywood ratings -- G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 -- must now compete with all manner of Internet-based ratings alternatives, some of which are gaining new traction through social networking tools.

SceneSmoking.org, which monitors tobacco use in movies, issues pink, light gray, dark gray or black lungs to films, depending on how smoking is depicted. Kids-in-Mind.com ranks movies on a scale of 1 to 10 in categories like "sex and nudity" and "violence and gore."

Movieguide.org issues ratings from a Christian perspective. A "+4," or "exemplary," means "no questionable elements whatsoever." A "-4," or "abhorrent," means "intentional blasphemy, evil, gross immorality."

The article goes on to talk about how people want to "fix" the MPAA ratings, according to various pet standards.

Why?

It seems like something great is happening. People that are passionate about different things -- and have different standards of acceptability -- are creating and disseminating their own ratings. Parents, or discriminating movie goers, who care about particular standards can use the ratings from a group that shares those same standards. There's absolutely, positively no way that Hollywood -- or the FTC -- can create a single rating system that represents all of those different standards.

There's a simple reason for that. One group of parents believes that nudity and coarse language is a natural and normal part of life. They believe that sex and nudity should be celebrated while their children should be protected from exposure to violence and aggression. There are other parents who would be horrified at the thought of their children seeing some bare skin but are perfectly okay with their children seeing movies that depict massive amounts of violence. Now, design me a PG-13 or R rating that makes both groups of parents happy.

I celebrate the diversity in ratings. I may even use one standard to evaluate which movies my children will be allowed to see and a completely different standard to evaluate which movies I'll see. Vive la difference!

Kill the Seals and the Dolphins!

Dear Reader, some mornings I wake up and ask myself: "Self, how much are hated, really hated?". Invariably the answer that comes back is "Not nearly enough". This morning, I'm going to take the first step towards changing that.

Over the weekend, I saw this video of pretty people trying to save pretty animals, dolphins in this case. Seems that the Japanese like to catch and eat dolphins. Several actors, including Hayden Panettiere -- better known as Claire Bennet, to fans of NBC's "Heroes" -- tried to swim out and save the dolphins. They were shockingly unsuccessful. Apparently Japanese fishermen don't hold actors and surfers in the same high regard that Americans do.

After her brush with evil, Hayden had this to say:

It was so incredibly sad. We were so close to them and they were sky hopping, jumping out of the water to see us. One little baby dolphin stuck his head out and kinda looked at me and the thought that it's no longer with us is really hard to take."

She broke into tears at this point.

Here's where I draw the hate (if I haven't already!). I see no moral distinction between killing cows, chickens, pigs, or eels and between killing dolphins. I've never eaten eel or dolphin, but I have eaten chickens, cows, and pigs. They're all quite tasty. I'm not a fan of seafood, generally, so I'm not optimistic about dolphins or eels. But I see absolutely nothing wrong with killing them -- or with baby seals for that matter.

I think that seals and dolphins attract an inordinate amount of love solely because they're cute. I'll acknowledge it: they are cute. But if cuteness is our sole defining criteria of what life is worthy to save and what life isn't, we are messed up in a major way.

Right now, there are poor kids in Vietnam whose parents would love to sell Vietnamese catfish to American diners. They can't, because American trade regulations are designed to protect catfish sellers in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. Hayden, do you cry for those poor children nearly as much as you cry for the cute baby dolphin?

Let the hating begin.

Christians Should Avoid the "Culture Wars"

Between Two Worlds: The Dangers of Culture Warfare Imagery

There is a spiritual component to this battle; and therefore, all our intellectual efforts must express our faithfulness to Christ and must be bathed in prayer. We must never use the weapons of unbelief -- dishonesty, slander, name-calling, and so on. The second danger, related to the first, is that we can forget that the unbeliever is not the person we're fighting against; rather, he is the person we are fighting for: that is, the purpose of all this is to free people from their slavery to the Devil. The third danger that arises is that we can forget that any Christian -- and any Christian church -- always has only a partial grasp of a fully Christian worldview; and even those parts that we grasp rightly, we practice only partly. So some of our "warfare" ought to be against our own imperfections!

This entry was tagged. Christianity Morality

Prostitution: Different from Adultery?

Earlier this week, Reason Magazine columnist Cathy Young asked why is it still illegal to pay for sex?

Yet prostitution is perhaps the ultimate victimless crime: a consensual transaction in which both parties are supposedly committing a crime, and the person most likely to be charged"”the one selling sex"”is also the one most likely to be viewed as the victim. (A bizarre inversion of this situation occurs in Sweden, where, as a result of feminist pressure to treat prostitutes as victims, it is now a crime to pay for sex but not to offer it for sale.) It is sometimes claimed that the true victims of prostitution are the johns' wives. But surely women whose husbands are involved in noncommercial"”and sometimes quite expensive"”extramarital affairs are no less victimized.

Another common claim is that prostitution causes direct harm by contributing to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. However, that may be the reddest herring of them all. In Australia, where sex for money is legal, the rate of HIV infection among female prostitutes is so low that prostitution has been removed from the list of known risk factors in HIV surveillance. In the U.S., reliable data are more difficult to come by, but a 1987 Centers for Disease Control study likewise found very low infection rates among prostitutes.

Why is prostitution illegal? From a Biblical perspective, I have a very hard time distinguishing between prostitution and plain old adultery. In one case, one person directly pays another for sex. In the other case, one person indirectly pays another for sex through dinners, compliments, movies, and other outings. Why should it be illegal to pay a someone for a sex, but not illegal to take a co-worker out for dinner and drinks before going back to their apartment for sex?

I think the common answer is that sex should only be enjoyed within the context of a loving relationship -- that it shouldn't be commoditized and sold like any other service. I would agree that sex shouldn't be routinely bought and sold. I'm not at all certain that all prostitution occurs outside of a loving relationship. After all, some women would certainly leave a man if he didn't provide enough expensive gifts. Why should we classify cash payments any differently? I am certain that not all adultery occurs in the context of a loving relationship. Many men and women will commit adultery purely out spite and not because they love the person they are committing adultery with.

Simply put, I think there can be a lot of overlap between prostitution and adultery -- and adultery are equally morally objectionable. I don't see the distinction that makes one worthy of criminalization and the other "merely" worthy of scorn.

I'll talk later about whether I think adultery should be criminalized.

Nonsense For Your Perusal

A little black comedy from the Associated Press to start your day off right, Lords and Ladies:

CHICAGO "” Nation of Islam officials on Tuesday said Jewish leaders who resigned from a state hate crimes commission rather than serve with one of their members should rejoin the panel or quit criticizing it.

Two former commission members said they had no intention of returning to the Governor's Commission on Discrimination and Hate Crimes because Sister Claudette Marie Muhammad refused to repudiate the religious movement's leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan.

In her first comments since four commissioners resigned last week, Muhammad said it was ridiculous that she has been condemned for Farrakhan's remarks.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Muhammad to the commission in August drew no public attention until she invited commissioners to attend a speech given by Farrakhan, who is known for his disparaging remarks about Jews, whites and gays.

Some commissioners began criticizing her presence on the panel after Farrakhan's speech Feb. 26 in Chicago that included references to "Hollywood Jews" promoting homosexuality and "other filth."

On Tuesday, Farrakhan's chief of staff, Brother Leonard Muhammad, said the Nation of Islam forgave the former commissioners because they "left out of confusion."

"You misunderstand what the commission is all about," Leonard Muhammad said on WVON-AM. "Come back to the commission and debate your point."

He later issued a stronger challenge for them to return.

"They need to come back or shut up," Leonard Muhammad said.

Claudette Muhammad urged her critics to leave her alone.

"For those who try to condemn me because of the honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan's remarks," she said, "it's ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous."

Claudette Muhammad said she and her family have been victims of hate crimes and discrimination, and that she has Jewish family members, has traveled to Israel and has worshipped in synagogues.

"Please know I am not the victimizer here, OK, but instead I am the victim," she said. She refused to repudiate Farrakhan and recommended that people who disagree with him, speak with him.

"I have no intention of returning to the commission until it is cleansed of the stain and stench of bigotry caused by Sister Claudette's continued presence," said Hirschhaut, executive director of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

As a cherry on this little sunday, the governor has stated that he didn't actually have any idea that he hired a Nation of Islam follower for his commission, apparently thinking that this would make everyone feel better.

Squeezing Out the Lower Classes

Madison's liberals spend a lot of time talking about helping the poor and improving the lives of the poor. This is, bluntly, a load of hogwash.

The Capital Times published another article about Wisconsin Health Care for All and their plan to offer health care to everyone in the city of Madison. In this article, I learned that most of the group's members are former Kerry campaign members. They were, understandably, depressed after Senator Kerry's loss in the 2004 election:

"We decided that we wanted to keep working," said Barbara Spar, who teaches human resources management at Madison Area Technical College. "We wanted to be for something. We wanted to use our energy instead of being depressed."

They decided to use their energy to implement universal health care on a local level -- Madison, specifically. As I wrote previously, the group wants to implement their plan by requiring all businesses in Madison to pay a portion of their payroll into an insurance fund. Businesses that already provide healthcare will be exempt from this new "fee".

The group boasts that they have an economist as one of their leaders: John Kalfayan. Therefore, group members are certain that their plan will not hurt businesses in Madison or lead to layoffs. Quite possibly they're right. If they are able to implement their plan, I have every confidence that no existing businesses will close. Furthermore, I'm fairly confident that no one will be laid off as a result of this plan.

That's not to say that this plan will good for everyone. This is one small group of people that would be hurt by this plan: those who have few marketable job skills. As an economist, I would expect that Mr. Kalfayan is familiar with the idea of "marginal utility". Simply put, marginal utility is the value that someone gets from the last unit of something. Think of it this way: for a hungry man, a single burger has great value. A second burger would be appreciated, but a little bit less than the first burger was. A third burger would be okay, but he might not miss it if it wasn't there. A fourth burger might even be ignored. The fourth burger then has a much lower marginal utility than the first burger did.

The same principle holds true in business. As businesses hire more employees, each employee will have a lower marginal utility to the business. If it is too expensive to hire an additional employee (for instance, if the employer must provide healthcare in addition to minimum wage), the business may choose to make do with the employees they already have. Thus, while this healthcare plan may not cause any layoffs it will, quite possibly, prevent new jobs from being created.

There is another factor that will come into play. As employees become more expensive, businesses will choose to hire only the best employees. If this new "healthcare fee" causes the minimum wage to rise from $5.50 an hour to $5.94 an hour, the employer will only hire employees who can contribute more than $5.94 an hour to the bottom line. This means employers will only hire someone who is fully trained and competent.

What about less qualified applicants? What about people who might have had trouble holding down a job in the past or who have limited work experience or who simply require a lot of on the job training? The answer is simple: it will be much harder for them to find work. They will be passed over in favor of applicants who can justify the higher pay scale.

Implementing this healthcare plan would remove the lowest rung from the economic ladder. Implementing this healthcare plan would lead to businesses squeezing out applicants who are inexperienced or under-qualified. For these people, Wisconsin Health Care for All is not offering a choice of a job without healthcare benefits or a job with healthcare benefits. No, for these people, Wisconsin Health Care for All only offers the choice of a job with healthcare or no job at all. Which do you think a desperate man would prefer: a job without healthcare or no job whatsoever?

I know which option I would prefer. The simple fact of the matter is, this plan would neither help the poor nor make them better off. It is a purely cosmetic fix that will have large, hidden repercussions. While Madison's liberals will pat themselves on the back for the workers they've helped, they'll be completely oblivious to the people they've hurt.

I'd rather focus on why Madison's businesses can't voluntarily offer health insurance. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might have something to do with the fact that only four states in the nation have higher taxes than Wisconsin. Unfortunately, that problem will only be made worse by taking a new payroll "fee" from local businesses.

Morally Outraged Atheists

Kudos to Ken Pierce for posting this essay on Morally Outraged Atheists:

Now, I tell that story (which, I should say, I made up) because it goes to the heart of one of atheism's major problems. An atheist is eager to tell you that there ain't no transcendent moral laws -- and then he'll just as eagerly jump all over your butt when you do something he thinks is "wrong." But if atheism is true, then an atheist telling you that, say, people ought not to be "racist" (by whatever definition he's attached to that extremely fluid loaded word) is like Sherriff L. C. sayin' he don't like red cars. If the atheist can hurt you (because, e. g., he's running the government) then maybe you say to yourself, "That's total b.s.," but you still lower your head and play along so you won't get hurt. Otherwise, when the atheist tells you that he finds your "racism" outrageous and it honks him off, you just cheerfully and rationally respond, "Well, homie, I guess it sucks to be you, huh?"

If you're wondering what's up with Sherriff L.C. not liking red cars, well, go read the full essay.

This entry was tagged. Morality Philosophy