The Enemy Within

From Seattle alterno-rag, The Stranger, Vol 14 No. 9, Nov 11 – Nov 17, 2004 – the so-called “I, Anonymous” section:

DEAR OSAMA BIN LADEN

I’m sorry. You were right. We deserve to be blown up.

After last Tuesday, well… what can I say? You had us pegged dead-on the first time–although I was in denial and refused to believe it up until now. We as a nation obviously ARE a bunch of mindless sheep, grown fat with consumerism and easily led down the primrose path into corruption. After what happened November 2, there’s just no denying it anymore. I’m ashamed that I was so blind for so long.

After 60 percent of eligible voters turned out and 51 percent of those voted for Bush, I can’t do anything but concede your point: There are no innocents left in America. We’ve brought this on ourselves. Go ahead and do your worst. We’ve got it coming–in a big way. All I ask is this: Give New York a break, okay? And leave New England, California, and the rest of the West Coast out of it as well. We’re on your side already! Please, stay focused and plan your next attack against the real enemy: those “red states” in the middle of the map. Fly a Cessna into the stands of a NASCAR rally. Put a suicide bomber on the Arch in St. Louis. Drive a truck-bomb into the Grand Ole Opry. Release anthrax at an Astros game. It’s all good! They’ve got it coming. I’m just sorry it took me so long to figure out how very right you were. Can you ever forgive me?
–Anonymous

Billy Beck comments:

Last week, I saw a story about a hiker in the Denver area who attacked by a slasher. He survived, but he later said that he absolutely no doubt at all that his attacker was trying to kill him. Nonetheless, he described how he attempted to talk the prospective killer out of the attack — *while it was in progress* — with assertions that he didn’t deserve to be killed that way.

Have you ever in your life seen real, delusionary, madness?

Let me try to explain something to you, mate.

It is *madness* to hope that the divisions in America can be reasonably, rationally “healed”. It is of a piece with attempting to discuss the ethics of a murderer while he is attempting murder.

I don’t have much to add to this, except to say with extra emphasis to libertarians, to any libertarian who thinks that there is some moral equivilance between liberals and conservatives, or that it’s possible to ally with liberals to defend freedom.

It’s not possible.

Conservatives may be philosophically opposed to you; liberals hate you.

Liberals want you dead. Literally.

If this leads to some uncomfortable conclusions, well, there’s nothing I can do about it.

104 thoughts on “The Enemy Within”

  1. (…continued)

    It’s kind of fascinating to me that Singer focuses so much on innocent children–but ignores the daily violence perpetrated by adults against other adults in the form of states, armies, and the like. I would argue further that such violence inherently cheapens the sanctity of life to the point that people are that much less inclined to help out strangers. What about the common argument that you shouldn’t give to charity since government is already taking care of it?

    When Bob first grasped the dilemma that faced him as he stood by that railway switch, he must have thought how extraordinarily unlucky he was to be placed in a situation in which he must choose between the life of an innocent child and the sacrifice of most of his savings. But he was not unlucky at all. We are all in that situation.

  2. You’re right Lopez–I will comment on a few portions:

    All of which raises a question: In the end, what is the ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one — knowing that the money could be donated to an organization that would use it to save the lives of kids in need?

    Singer’s article is fraught with the confusion between negative and positive actions–the obvious difference here is that the Brazillian contributed to the homeless child’s demise, whereas the American in Singer’s example does not directly contribute to malnutrition and other ills of the third world.

  3. If you still think that it was very wrong of Bob not to throw the switch that would have diverted the train and saved the child’s life, then it is hard to see how you could deny that it is also very wrong not to send money to one of the organizations listed above. Unless, that is, there is some morally important difference between the two situations that I have overlooked.

    I think both are wrong; if Bob is a rational human being, I have a hard time believing he will value his car more highly than the life of a child. But so what? Singer wants to argue that it’s morally good to help out innocent children, that’s fine with me since I agree.

  4. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? What “aggression” are you talking about?”

    Well Lopez beat me to a response, and did a fine job in the process. I don’t really have anything else to add.

  5. <i>This doesn’t follow. Obviously the statistic, if true, is based on reported incidents, not unreported incidents. According to this statistic, a majority of the women who report an attempted but unsuccessful rape say that they escaped through persuasion and not through force. Perfectly valid logic, and correct, if the facts are accurate.</i>
    Its the wording I have problems with. To me, it appears that they’re encouraging behaviors without specific guidance. Engaging & thereby humanizing yourself to an attacker might be of benefit, I’ll admit- but then “most rapes are committed by acquaintances”, so I still have some doubts. NB: I haven’t seen the flyer, of course, and I don’t fault you for that.
    More to the point: Women are frequently unarmed. A comparison of reported thwarted attempts, guns [or aggressive response] vs. persuasion, might be of more interest.

  6. <i>Singer’s article is fraught with the confusion between negative and positive actions–the obvious difference here is that the Brazillian contributed to the homeless child’s demise, whereas the American in Singer’s example does not directly contribute to malnutrition and other ills of the third world.</i>

    Singer is not “confused” about this distinction. He is a utilitarian. Like many if not most utilitarians, he rejects the passive/active distinction. You are judging his arguments using a deontological libertarian perspective. Obviously his arguments are not compatable with this perspective, as he is not a deontological libertarian. Yet his is still a persuasive, if not entirely convincing argument.

  7. Well, that italics didn’t work. Heh.
    To amplify a bit: I’ve met survivors who’ve done precisely what you say- used persuasion to escape. In fact, many, though many more for whom this tactic didn’t work, sad to say. I’ve noted that in almost every case the attacker didn’t suddenly evince a previosly absent fellow-feeling of humanity, but was instead distracted enough to lower his guard and the ‘victim’ slipped away.
    Conversely, I’ve never had to meet an armed woman at a hospital post-rape. Its entirely feasible that they all went to the jails, however- that wasn’t my bailiwick.

  8. (Continued)

    If someone sells a product that’s dangerous, lies about it, and people die, the government comes after them. Government agent-men paid for with taxes (read: “extortion”).

    Taxation is aggression.

    I’ve got some news for you, Walter: bureaucracy isn’t just form-filling DMV drones wasting your time: bureaucracy is, in the end, Lon Horiuchi putting a hollow point bullet through Vicki Weaver’s skull. Anyone who attempts to peacefully live his life in opposition to government “policy” runs the risk, sooner or later, of having men with guns show up at his door.

    Men who will kill him, if he does not submit.

    That’s aggression.

  9. (…continued)

    I don’t think Singer has shown sufficient similarity between the two situations–one is an emergency, the other is not. Further, Singer assumes it’s a moral imperative to help strangers. Fine. Whatever. But is it the most important mark of a good person that they help random strangers? What about temperance, kindness, courage, patience, industriousness, justice, and lots of other virtues that have their aim as improving the moral character of the individual, rather than “maximizing the utility” of random strangers? There’s a reason why Bob shouldn’t sacrifice his leg in order to save one child–and it ain’t got nothing to do with social utility. In short, if “social utility” is something to be maximized then perhaps Americans really are giving much less than they should–but why does “social utility” exist and why should it be maximized?

  10. Walter: “What “aggression” are you talking about?

    Upthread:”No one likes bureaucracy, Asshole – they just consider it a necessary evil to prevent things like discrimination in hiring or market manipulation or willful negligence in product manufacturing and sale.

    If a man chooses to start a company, and chooses not to hire people with Mexican surnames, your “bureaucracy” is going to use force against him, if necessary, to stop him from peacefully going about his own business.

    That’s aggression.

    If Martha Stewart gets an inside tip about a stock and acts on it, men with guns come and stick her into a cage.

    That’s aggression.

  11. Micha, I’ll have to take your word for it. I’ve certainly never met a liberal (even an educated one) with a solid concept of justice. It’s all about jealousy.

  12. Its the wording I have problems with. To me, it appears that they’re encouraging behaviors without specific guidance. Engaging & thereby humanizing yourself to an attacker might be of benefit, I’ll admit- but then “most rapes are committed by acquaintances”, so I still have some doubts.

    The wording is from my memory, as I don’t have the flyer in front of me. And I never claimed that the majority of rapes are committed by acquaintances; all I said is that these are common.

  13. Micha, I’ll have to take your word for it. I’ve certainly never met a liberal (even an educated one) with a solid concept of justice. It’s all about jealousy.

    That may be an underlying motivation in many cases, at least from a libertarian perspective. On the other hand, a modern liberal would say that libertarians are motivated by selfishness (and some even admit as much). But both libertarians and left-liberals, regardless of their motivations, have offered persuasive accounts of justice. See John Rawls, Peter Singer, G.A. Cohen (actually, he is more of a Marxist/social democrat than a conventional left-liberal), among others.

  14. Many, or most, rapes go unreportd to begin with. To state baldly that “a majority of women escape through persuasion” is utterly nonsensical on its face. Use your sense of logic: If actual rapes go un-reported, why would they ever report one that hadn’t occured?

    This doesn’t follow. Obviously the statistic, if true, is based on reported incidents, not unreported incidents. According to this statistic, a majority of the women who report an attempted but unsuccessful rape say that they escaped through persuasion and not through force. Perfectly valid logic, and correct, if the facts are accurate.

  15. Cohen is interesting because he is one of the few contemporary non-libertarian philosophers who takes libertarian objections seriously.

    I was debating with a liberal last week, and he appeared to take my objections seriously. Basically, as far as I can tell he thinks governments exist to
    1) Enforce contracts
    2) Print money
    3) Transfer money from rich people to poor people because otherwise the rich person wouldn’t help the poor person voluntarily.

    I don’t think he completely understands what government is though…

  16. I can give you some general links, but you would need to read a number of their articles if not their books to get a good impression of the kinds or arguments they use.

    Here’s an index for most of Singer’s work. For a particularly strong example of his reasoning (in my opinion, of course), see “The Singer Solution to World Poverty.”

    Rawl’s is best known for his books, A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism. Rawls is arguably the most important political philosopher of the last century and single-handedly resurrected normative political philosophy, which long lay dormant in the academy. See Wikipedia for more detail.

    continued…

  17. Micha does not have a sense of justice, that is why he can’t figure out why liberals don’t have one.

    Just because I don’t believe that justice exists independant of the observer does not mean I don’t understand the concept. I clearly understand the complexities of ethics better than you do, Pete. You continually exhibit your ignorance of all forms of ethics different than your own (exhibit A: you think utilitarianism just means “what the majority wants” and at the same time believe utilitarianism is incompatable with methodological subjectivism, despite the fact that economics includes both principles at its foundation), and you don’t even seem to understand that one so well.

  18. 3. “we simply don’t define “justice” in such narrow terms as “an eye for an eye”, the way most conservatives and plenty of libertarians do.” Well, at the STRANGER they define justice as “if our side loses the election, then we hope bin Laden kills a lot of Republicans.” Oh, I can see that’s much less narrow and vindictive.

    4. “Use a little fucking deductive reasoning, why don’t you, and think about whether it’s at all rational to believe that an entire group of people whose entire philosophical outlook is fucking BASED ON the concept of social justice “has no sense of justice” ” Let’s see – apparantly “fucking deductive reasoning” means “pay no attention when we say we want you dead.” As for the meaningless term “social justice” – to paraphrase Bob Black, what a story that phrase could tell – “If only mouthwash could talk.”

  19. 5. “As for the asshole who wrote the bin Laden article: fuck him. He’s probably some pot-smoking punk kid who has no understanding of the real world…” etc, etc. Probably true enough. The person who actually wrote that malign rot isn’t important. The significant thing is that the staff of the STRANGER – which is a major Seattle weekly, not a underground zine – read it, liked it and put it in a prominent place in their magazine. They knew what they were doing.

  20. Okay, to be fair, Sobchak sounds like he might sincerely not approve of the STRANGER’S bloodthirsty little posturing. But why is he writing us? If he really thinks the person who wrote that psychotic screed is an asshole, let’s see him get as nasty with the STRANGER as he gets with us. No matter how unfair I may be, nothing I write here will have anywhere near the negative impact on Democrat electoral hopes that your fellow liberals will have by spreading this stuff far and wide. They’re the ones you should be mad at. Go bother them.

    I won’t hold my breath waiting, though.

  21. “Okay, to be fair, Sobchak sounds like he might sincerely not approve of the STRANGER’S bloodthirsty little posturing…” etc

    What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Of course I disapprove of it, and that’s my entire goddam point. It does NOT, I repeat NOT, represent liberal thinking AT ALL. What has me pissed off is your self-serving attempt to portray it as if it did. No one in your business should be that ignorant. Remember: the jackoff who wrote that letter was, as I said, probably some nihilistic stoner who thinks that all we have to do is sing “kumbaya” with the terrorists and they’ll leave us alone. You, on the other hand, should know better, even if only so that you can better understand those you perceive to be your enemies (i.e. liberals).

  22. As for why I write you rather than The Stranger (as if it’s any of your goddam business)?

    1) They don’t have a comments section, and you do.
    2) Sentiments like those expressed in the letter do not represent a political position that can be argued with; they are just meaningless contrarian rantings.
    3) I have a hard time believing the letter-writer was serious, at least to the extent that he would honestly be in favor of the consequences resulting from another terrorist attack. He’s probably just venting. You, on the other hand, were attempting to portray his words as representative of liberals, and that really pisses me off.

  23. –CONTINUED–

    Alot of liberals are extremely angry about the election because they find it hard to believe that anyone could vote for Bush despite his horrible record the past 4 years. However, it is clear from this poll that conservatives don’t know that his record is horrible! I invite conservatives to stop kissing Bush’s ass for a second, pull back, and take a look at what’s happening. Were losing respect around the world and it’s not because they hate Jesus.

    — Welcome to reality my friends.

  24. “…liberals are essentially libertarians whose strong sense of altruism/empathy gives them an almost overpowering desire for social justice.”

    I guess this overwhelming quest for “social justice” means you must support aggression against others who do not share your social justice ideal and just want to be left the hell alone. If you and your ilk were truly “altruistic” as you claim, you would commit your own funds to the cause of social justice for all and leave the rest of us out of it. (I’m sure many of those wealthy Hollywood celebs would jump at the chance to help seeing as they are all about social justice as well.)

  25. This guy is a little extreme don’t you think? I am liberal and I don’t want conservatives to die, nor am I on the side of Osama Bin Laden. When Jerry Falwell said that 9/11 was a punishment from god for the acts of “the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays” I did not automatically consider this to be the general consensus amoung conservatives.

    We want conservatives to think. Stop watching Fox News already! Stop fooling yourself into thinking the Iraq war was justified. According to a PIPA poll: (http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Pres_Election_04/html/new_10_21_04.html) from
    October, 72 percent of Bush supporters believe either that Iraq had actual WMD or a major program for developing them! The WMD misinformation has long been debunked by the CIA. This kind of ignorance is disgraceful.

  26. WRT Micha’s comment-
    I’ve worked in social services with rape victims & am familiar with many stats in re: sexual assault. I need to call BS on the one quoted above.
    Many, or most, rapes go unreportd to begin with. To state baldly that “a majority of women escape through persuasion” is utterly nonsensical on its face.
    Use your sense of logic: If actual rapes go un-reported, why would they ever report one that hadn’t occured?

    The purpose of citing this on a flyer is to empower women to respond to an attacker, albeit unfortunately with false hopes. A common tactic in the field, BTW.

  27. “I guess this overwhelming quest for “social justice” means you must support aggression against others who do not share your social justice ideal and just want to be left the hell alone.”

    What the hell is that supposed to mean? What “aggression” are you talking about?

  28. Micha: “I just read a statistic recently that the majority of women who are approached by a rapist escape not through the use of force, but through persuading their attacker to leave them alone.”

    Of those who escape, I imagine that’s true. The average man has an enormous force advantage over the average woman. The odds would be a lot better if she was more persuasive:

    “> “>

    http://www.a-human-right.com/

  29. Most liberals that I have met don’t have any concept of justice. They just go with their emotions; it’s not a developed concept at all.

  30. And when I say that modern liberals have a sense of justice, I obviously don’t mean they share your sense of justice; if they did, they wouldn’t be called modern liberals. Rather, they share a sense of justice – that is, they are concerned with what is just, not merely what is established or traditional. Even if their understanding of justice is completely different than yours, this is still a similarity which modern liberals and libertarians share – one that conservatives and libertarians often do not. So long as a person is concerned with what is right rather than what is in accordance with tradition, this person has the potential to be persuaded by libertarian arguments to change their conception of justice. Whereas if a person doesn’t care about what is just, but only with what has been established in the past, there is much less room for argument.

  31. So we have looters on the one hand who kill you for your stuff, and idealistic killers on the other who think it’s the right thing to do?

  32. Sabotta is right. That Seattle alternative rag isn’t going to lose a dime over that outburst. Think about the implications of that. Conservatives, on the other hand, see your death as a means to an end (usually “free” stuff) rather than as an end in and of itself.

  33. Seek out the more intelligent, better educated modern liberals and you will find conceptions of justice just as complex and developed as any libertarian ones.

    I recommend Ronald Dworkin’s Taking Rights Seriously. He’s obviously a social democrat, and I disagree strongly when he theorises about what rights we actually have, but he discusses the role of principle in decision. It’s brilliant.

  34. I sort of agree with billy-jay; one of my close friends is a redistributionist liberal and doesn’t really have a clear conception of justice–the rich should be taxed to help the poor, the upright brought down to equalize them with the low, etc.

  35. I saw the statistic on a bulletin board at my university, along with other crime prevention tips. I don’t know if the same flyer is online.

    And sure, I agree that guns are the ultimate equalizer. But:

    a) not everyone feels comfortable carrying a gun
    b) even those who do feel comfortable carrying a gun don’t (or can’t) carry the gun everywhere they go. This is especially true with regard to rapes by known acquaintances, which are very common
    c) even those who are carrying cannot always respond in time, if they are hit from behind or if the assailant pulls a gun first

    [continued…what the fuck is up with this new 900 character limit?)

  36. <i>Most liberals that I have met don’t have any concept of justice. They just go with their emotions; it’s not a developed concept at all.</i>

    At the end of the day, this is true of most libertarians as well, despite their claims to the contrary and appeals to “objective natural rights.” Seek out the more intelligent, better educated modern liberals and you will find conceptions of justice just as complex and developed as any libertarian ones.

  37. That’s a lot of conclusions to draw from one Osama-loving screed.

    Read the whole issue, “Moorlock”. And my experience is different. Liberals have no interest in justice or fairness, and the notion that they “distrust authority” is a carefully-constructed lie that many of them openly admit they don’t believe in themselves. They are not interested in delivering any of those things. I know. I hear their stuff in person every day. There are a lot of decent people who don’t understand what liberalism really is – and most of my friends are like this – but I’m not talking about those people.

  38. Conservatives may be philosophically opposed to you; liberals hate you.

    Liberals want you dead. Literally.

    …unless you carry a Koran and pray towards Mecca 6x a day. Then it’s the other way around.

    …or unless you work for the NYtimes, then you really just want to make sure that everyone’s rights get violated equally, American or otherwise.

  39. That’s a lot of conclusions to draw from one Osama-loving screed.

    A lot of my favorite libertarians are ex-liberals who switched from the same impulses that initially drove them to liberalism: rationality, justice, fairness, distrust of authority, desire for a better world. It can take a while to realize that the liberal dream of delivering these things via a bigger and better government is a pipe dream.

    Conservatives, in my experience, are either utter state-smooching scoundrels without anything to recommend them over liberals, or phoney libertarians who just want to get rid of those parts of the state they can’t milk. They’re the first to change the subject away from how many people are imprisoned for vice crimes. When freedom-loving Americans are being stood up against the wall and shot, count on the conservatives to be wearing “I support the executioners” buttons.

  40. Micha, I think you’re dreaming. And I’d like to see numbers on the numbers of women who escape being raped. Since women have been pretty much completely disarmed, I don’t see how they have any other option than trying to talk their way out of it.

    Liberals have a sense of justice? Good God, man, that’s disturbing. I’ve never met a liberal who had a clue what justice was.

  41. Under such circumstances, I see nothing “delusionary” or “mad” about trying to appeal to an aggressor’s empathy. On the contrary, it is insanity for a weak victim to fight back against a stronger assailant when fighting back is more likely to lead to more harm for the victim than any chance of escape, and when the victim adamantly refuses to try persuasion out of some false sense of “attackers cannot be reasoned with.”.

    [continued…]

  42. “I just read a statistic recently that the majority of women who are approached by a rapist escape not through the use of force, but through persuading their attacker to leave them alone.”

    The above statement immediately brings to mind the following headline.

    I just read a statistic recently that the majority of women who are approached by a rapist escape not through the use of force, but through persuading their attacker to leave them alone.

    I’m not saying this strategy translates directly to the realm of foreign policy, but it is certainly not the case that all violent aggressors are beyong reason.

    I don’t see any more hate coming from modern liberals than conservatives. If anything, I think we are philosophically closer to modern liberals. Modern liberals have a sense of justice and idealism. Conservatives, at the end of the day, care only about tradition, and will adamantly refuse to change a clearly unjust policy that even they agree is unjust, simply because of the “message” removing this policy might send, or the fear of unknown social change. See: war on drugs, equal rights for gays, immigration, and so on.

  43. Anyone who can make a statement like “Liberals want you dead. Literally.” and “Liberals have no interest in justice or fairness” — and mean it, clearly missed class the day they were talking about non-in-agreement-with-Me political philosophies. First of all, Asshole — can I call you Asshole? — here’s the deal, Asshole: liberals are essentially libertarians whose strong sense of altruism/empathy gives them an almost overpowering desire for social justice. Libertarians talk about the interference of Big Government, but you utterly ignore the origins of such “interference”. No one likes bureaucracy, Asshole – they just consider it a necessary evil to prevent things like discrimination in hiring or market manipulation or willful negligence in product manufacturing and sale.

  44. Does it go too far sometimes? Yes, yes it does. And I get really annoyed at liberals who just automatically assume that in every instance, regulation is preferable to the absence thereof. Lots of liberals would be well-served by taking a few classes in economics and finance. But then, one of the biggest problems in this country is the weak primary education system and lack of access to higher education for most of the population. Isn’t it?

  45. So no, Asshole, liberals are not unaware of the concept of justice; we simply don’t define “justice” in such narrow terms as “an eye for an eye”, the way most conservatives and plenty of libertarians do. Extreme libertarian hyper-rationalist solipsism is no excuse for making such bullshit arguments, just as extreme liberal hyper-rationalist altruism is no excuse for claiming that anyone who opposes welfare is an exploitive capitalist oppressor conspiring to keep the working class in chains. Use a little fucking deductive reasoning, why don’t you, and think about whether it’s at all rational to believe that an entire group of people whose entire philosophical outlook is fucking BASED ON the concept of social justice “has no sense of justice”. Makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

  46. As for the asshole who wrote the bin Laden article: fuck him. He’s probably some pot-smoking punk kid who has no understanding of the real world because he’s always been sheltered by mommy and daddy, and thought he was being funny. Don’t try to use him to tar liberals with the brush of stupidity. Asshole.

  47. Mr. Sobchak is very upset. That’s sad. I have unfairly assumed that people who say they hate me, and who say they want Osama Bin Laden to kill me mean what they say. Mr. Sobchak’s hateful disclaimer of hatefulness isn’t worth spending too much time on, but we can make a little time for his concerns, I think.

    1. “liberals are essentially libertarians” Ah, that’s a good one. I think that one deserves to sit in lonely splendor for a while, so the readership can comtemplate it at leisure. Not much I can add to that.

    2. “And I get really annoyed at liberals who just automatically assume that in every instance, regulation is preferable to the absence thereof.” says Sobchak. Well, I get annoyed at liberals who cheer on mass murder. We all have our little prejudices, I guess.

  48. I think both are wrong; if Bob is a rational human being, I have a hard time believing he will value his car more highly than the life of a child.

    You misunderstand his point. I am a rational human being and yet I value many of my possessions more than I value the life of a child. You do too, whether you realize it or not. We have the opportunity to save the life of a child every second of every day, yet we do not do so.

    Disagree with Singer’s argument – fine. I do too. But recognize that it is a powerful one.

  49. What about the common argument that you shouldn’t give to charity since government is already taking care of it?

    He addresses this argument when he addresses the excuse that we don’t need to help because others could help too. Others don’t help. We know this. So we can ignore the actions of others insofar as we know what is taking place right now.

  50. I don’t think Singer has shown sufficient similarity between the two situations–one is an emergency, the other is not.

    A child’s starvation is just as much of an emergency as a child’s drowning.

    Further, Singer assumes it’s a moral imperative to help strangers. Fine. Whatever. But is it the most important mark of a good person that they help random strangers? What about temperance, kindness, courage, patience, industriousness, justice, and lots of other virtues that have their aim as improving the moral character of the individual, rather than “maximizing the utility” of random strangers?

    Again, Singer is a utilitarian, not an Aristotelian.

  51. There’s a reason why Bob shouldn’t sacrifice his leg in order to save one child–and it ain’t got nothing to do with social utility. In short, if “social utility” is something to be maximized then perhaps Americans really are giving much less than they should–but why does “social utility” exist and why should it be maximized?

    This is a broader question, and is not answered in this piece. One would need to consult other utilitarian literature in order to find the answer given by people like Singer.

  52. A child’s starvation is just as much of an emergency as a child’s drowning.

    This contradicts the definition of an “emergency”…

    You misunderstand his point. I am a rational human being and yet I value many of my possessions more than I value the life of a child. You do too, whether you realize it or not. We have the opportunity to save the life of a child every second of every day, yet we do not do so.

    I went over my entire apartment and only found a few possessions I would value “over” the life of a child–they happen to be possessions vital to my continued professional survival, e.g. my computer where I type assignments and post to this blog, or my sole remaining pair of shoes, or my refrigerator, etc. But at any rate, the angel Gabriel has not come down and offered to trade my refrigerator for the life of a child, so the point is moot.

  53. (…continued)

    Again, Singer is a utilitarian, not an Aristotelian.

    I am tempted to regard Singer’s argument as a reductio ad absurdum of utilitarianism…but I will desist. Why do YOU Micha, as a consequentialist, not find his argument “entirely convincing”?

  54. A child’s starvation is just as much of an emergency as a child’s drowning.

    This contradicts the definition of an “emergency”…

    How so? Because death takes a bit longer through starvation than through drowning? But at any point in time, there are a number of children who are on the margin between having enough food and not having enough food. By not acting, you are ignoring their emergency just as much as you would be ignoring a drowning child.

  55. I am tempted to regard Singer’s argument as a reductio ad absurdum of utilitarianism…but I will desist. Why do YOU Micha, as a consequentialist, not find his argument “entirely convincing”?

    There are a number of reasons why I do not. Mainly, because my form of consequentialism is rule-utilitarianism, not individual action-utilitarianism. Further, if established as a general, there are a number of unintended consequences that could and probably would occur, as Garrett Hardin argues here.

    (continued…)

  56. I went over my entire apartment and only found a few possessions I would value “over” the life of a child–they happen to be possessions vital to my continued professional survival, e.g. my computer where I type assignments and post to this blog, or my sole remaining pair of shoes, or my refrigerator, etc. But at any rate, the angel Gabriel has not come down and offered to trade my refrigerator for the life of a child, so the point is moot.

    The point is not moot at all. You could sell all of these unnecessary possessions to a pawn shop or on ebay and use the proceeds to feed starving children. Yet you do not do so.

  57. I over-stated the case. It is not that “all” these debates are irrelevant. There are still some tricky questions about how we define liberty and welfare. But the thrust of the case is that by any reasonable definitions, there is no need to choose between them.

  58. As I point out in the post above this one, Singer can go on all he wants about how much I ought to give to starving children, or sacrifice Bugattis for careless ones, as long as he thinks he has to convince me to do so.

    When he (or someone who agrees with him) decides he can coerce me to do so, I take an entirely different view of his writings. Even if I agree that I ought to do something, it doesn’t follow that it’s just to make me do it, and if this is a discussion of the political, that’s the case you have to make.

  59. Micha:

    The Liberal perspective seems to rest upon the proposition that there is an inherent clash between maximising liberty and maximising welfare – viz – that in realistic and plausible cases, the starving children will die unless people are forced to give up some of their stuff to feed the said children etc etc etc.

    But what if (as Jan Lester – a much underrated libertarian philosopher – conjectures) there is no systematic clash? What if max liberty equals max welfare for all credible cases?

    If so, all these debates about moral philosophy, rights, utilitarianism etc are just irrelevant twitterings – since they all proceed from a false premises – namely that it is necessary to choose between liberty and welfare.

    This is surely the best way to argue the libertarian case to Liberals? What sane Liberal could object to maximising both liberty and welfare?

    Julius

  60. Unfortunately Micha, it is a proven fact that the condition that “maximizes welfare” for all is totally unknowable, as it is impossible to make interpersonal utility comparisons in the absence of objective value. You can shout this down all you would like, but it remains fact. Your ad populum appeals to “widely accepted economic theory” are no less valid than appeals to widely accepted ethics.

    While no one can prove or disprove the existence of natural rights, the condition that utilitarian’s seek is a proven to be fictional.

  61. The Liberal perspective seems to rest upon the proposition that there is an inherent clash between maximising liberty and maximising welfare – viz – that in realistic and plausible cases, the starving children will die unless people are forced to give up some of their stuff to feed the said children etc etc etc.

    No where in Singer’s argument does he say that people should be forced to give to charity. Singer may make this claim elsewhere. Here, he is only arguing about what we as individuals should do if we wish to act ethically.

    continued…

  62.   Tisk tisk.

      You must be one of those…(insert mildly derisive snear here) …deontological libertarians, Andy. ;-)

      I would simply caution you to beware of those other so-called “libertarians” who hold no principled objection to forcing you to do what they have modeled to be in your best interest.

  63. (Cont.)

    So don’t go telling me “…you might be tempted to find their arguments persuasive…”. You act like we haven’t heard all of this stuff, day in day out, for all of our lives from every direction imaginable. It isn’t “persuasive” when it’s coming from the simpering news-chick on the TeeVee, when it’s coming out of the fat trap of Sen. Roundbottom, or even when it’s coming from you. It’s I-Cubed: “Oh, maybe if you hear yet another argument for killing you, you’ll agree!”

    Hum dood, it’s been considered and rejected.

  64. But what if (as Jan Lester – a much underrated libertarian philosopher – conjectures) there is no systematic clash? What if max liberty equals max welfare for all credible cases?

    I agree with this for the most part, which is why I am a libertarian and not a modern liberal. But remember: the argument I am making in this thread is not the modern liberals are correct, but only that many of them make persuasive, albeit not entirely convincing, arguments for their position. They appeal to a legitimate sense of justice not shared by libertarians, perhaps because, as you claimed, their interpretation of facts (liberty is incompatible with welfare) is different than ours.

    continued…

  65. If so, all these debates about moral philosophy, rights, utilitarianism etc are just irrelevant twitterings – since they all proceed from a false premises – namely that it is necessary to choose between liberty and welfare.

    I think it’s a matter of focus. Most people don’t share the libertarian conception of imprescriptable rights. Most people do share a desire to be happy and to live in a society in which their friends, family, and fellow community members are happy. I have found that utilitarian arguments tend to have broader appeal. Were I to argue with a non-libertarian who is more interested in rights than utility, I would make libertarian natural rights arguments, even though I don’t think they are as useful in general.

    continued…

  66. What sane Liberal could object to maximising both liberty and welfare?

    I agree. Here is the problem. Non-libertarians disagree with the libertarian conception of liberty and also disagree with the claim that free markets are the best way to maximize welfare. How should we resolve these two conflicts? The disagreement over liberty requires a philosophical discussion about the nature of rights, how property is justly acquired initially, whether positive or only negative rights require moral consideration, and so forth. These are extremely difficult questions, and at the end of the day, the answers people find persuasive are all to often based on intuition. If a non-libertarian does not find the libertarian theory of initial property acquisition appealing, there is not much else to say, and no place else to turn to resolve the conflict.

    continued…

  67. On the other hand, the disagreement over how best to maximize welfare is an economic question, and can be resolved with appeals to empirical evidence and widely accepted economic theory. This is still difficult, and not everyone — even not all economists — accept mainstream theory, nor does everyone interpret the empirical evidence, nor the proper definition of welfare (usually measured with a proxy) in the same way. But there does seem to be more potential for agreement in economic arguments than in arguments over natural rights. Anecdotal evidence for this observation is the fact that there is much more agreement between professional agreement than between professional philosophers.

    Note to NT administrators: this word limit really sucks. I’d rather read spam than separate my posts into 16 parts. Then again, it’s ultimately your call.

  68. Pete,

    Does free-market capitalism do a better job of maximizing welfare than communism? Does free-market capitalism do a better job of maximizing welfare than a mixed economy?

    Are the answers to these questions totally unknowable? Where is your “proven fact” to demonstrate this?

  69. And you wonder why I call some of you guys Randians.

    Ghertner, if your “dissent” is that I’m to be cut up for Soylent Green to feed your values, then you’re God-damned right I won’t tolerate it. (Now just so’s you don’t go getting wronger ideas, I’m not going to shut you off. This isn’t my site, and I wouldn’t do so even if it was.) But there is nothing to discuss: my life is either mine to live, or someone/some group else’s to dispose of as they see fit.

  70. I’m quick to “overreact” because you cautioned people to beware of me and other so-called “libertarians” – implying both that my ideas are dangerous and should be approached very carefully, if at all (a Randian idea), and that I am not a True Libertarian (another Randian idea – to claim ownership of an label and exclude those who disagree with you, even if they share fundamental agreement with the important elements of the label).

    The NAP may or may not have originated with Rand, but it was certainly popularized by her, as is the way it is used dogmatically by true believers.

    It’s not so much that I don’t think coercion is wrong; it’s just that this is a personal preference, it is not a very useful one for convincing others, and it has some possible exceptions.

  71. Ghertner, if your “dissent” is that I’m to be cut up for Soylent Green to feed your values, then you’re God-damned right I won’t tolerate it.

    Of course you wouldn’t tolerate. That’s why I need to coerce you. :D

    Seriously, though, I’m calling for the same things you are, with different reasons. And I certainly don’t accept your Randian commitment to silly principles, but that doesn’t mean I personally favor coercion. I’ve told you this again and again, so I cannot assume you are ignorant or inexperienced. That leaves me with only one possible conclusion.

  72. I would simply caution you to beware of those other so-called “libertarians” who hold no principled objection to forcing you to do what they have modeled to be in your best interest.

    Yes, beware of those scary “libertarians” (you can tell that they’re not really libertarians because of those scary scare quotes) who have the audacity to disagree with Randian/Rothbardian dogma. Be careful: if you listen to these so-called-libertarians, you might be tempted to find their arguments persuasive and convincing.

    This is clearly the work of Satan, as we know a priori that their arguments are wrong. Do not give in to the siren song of these fake-itarians. It is best to just close your ears if you feel your faith in natural rights is not strong enough yet.

    (continued…)

  73. Ghertner: “…but that doesn’t mean I personally favor coercion.”

    Until you get a bigger whip.

    That leaves me with only one possible conclusion.

    That I don’t believe you, Mr. “Morality Is Absurd”? That’s quite reasonable.

  74. My mistake then; must’ve confused you with Friedman.

    Friedman doesn’t believe that utilitarianism should be used as a complete ethical system intended to guide every individual action either.

  75. And you wonder why I call some of you guys Randians.

    What I actually wonder is why you’re so quick to overreact. It’s been pointed by others here that you more frequently invoke the name of Rand than anyone else. As far as I know, the non initiation of force principle didn’t originate with Ayn Rand. For what it’s worth to you, I have a number of problems and disagreements with various things she argued. I’ve spent years on one newsgroup explaining my position. And I wouldn’t discourage people from listening to your arguments, I simply think its in principle wrong to force innocents to do something they don’t want to do, whereas you don’t.

  76. A calculation which maximizes your own interest first, I understand

    No. My favored form of consequentialism is only applicable to legal rules. It is not a complete ethical system intended to guide every individual action. In terms of how I make my own life choices, I am probably much close to ethical egoism than anything else.

  77. And I certainly don’t accept your Randian commitment to silly principles, but that doesn’t mean I personally favor coercion.

    I can’t speak for John, but I don’t think anyone here thinks you favor coercion, at least I don’t. But you have said that you don’t think coercing innocents is entirely out of the question if they are not persuaded by your economic calculation of what’s in their best interest. (A calculation which maximizes your own interest first, I understand). It’s fine by me if you want to try to persuade people of the virtue of libertarian goals with pragmatic arguments. It’s your attitude about the possible use of coercion against them if they are not persuaded that I think makes some libertarians here bristle.

  78. implying both that my ideas are dangerous and should be approached very carefully

    It’s not that I think your ideas are dangerous — good grief, I don’t think free market capitalism is a dangerous idea. (Incidentally, neither did Rand. In fact, I think she called it “The Unknown Ideal” or something like that. Wrote a book about it and everything). Rather, it’s your apparent willingness to condone the use of coercion in the implementation of those ideas that provoked my caution.

    And btw, don’t take it too seriously, I did put a wink in my comment.

  79. Does free-market capitalism do a better job of maximizing welfare than communism? Does free-market capitalism do a better job of maximizing welfare than a mixed economy?

    For me, free-markets do a better job, for others, I must say I cannot know.

    Are the answers to these questions totally unknowable? Where is your “proven fact” to demonstrate this?

    Yes, they are unknowable, the proven fact is subjective value.

  80. No.

    My mistake then; must’ve confused you with Friedman.

    My (admittedly idealized) belief in this context is that the implementation of political/legal rules should never violate the ethical principles (rules if you wish) on which they are based. I think rational selfishness could scale quite well to the national level, tho I think the polity of today, generally besotted as it is on the milk of the nanny state (and wanting more all the time, I’m afraid), is woefully unprepared for the huge amount of personal responsibility that would be shifted on to them. I find most people are actually frightened by the implications of libertarian arguments, your kind or mine.

  81. Oh, you’re talking about Patri, not David. I’m not sure if that accurately describes Patri’s position either; I think his argument that in general, laws which maximize welfare also benefit him, and that’s why he argues in favor of economic analysis of law.

  82. Micha:

    I tried taking your advice about using consequentialist arguments to argue against a friend who claimed one of the reasons governments must exist is to print paper money so that the modern economy can develop. It failed. His reasoning for this claim is that all “reputable” economists make this claim. How exactly am I supposed to refute this? I can’t argue logically with someone who says “Group A supports my conclusion and I trust group A, therefore the conclusion follows”.

  83. Friedman doesn’t believe that utilitarianism should be used as a complete ethical system intended to guide every individual action either.

    I didn’t say every individual action, and that wasn’t the point of my parenthtetical. He said that any economic argument for policies that would make others better off, *first* had to make him better off. He was conceding a selfish motive. Again, I thought that was you who had made that point, but evidently I was mistaken.

  84. For me, free-markets do a better job, for others, I must say I cannot know.

    You cannot know? You have absolutely no clue as whether the average person would be better off under capitalism than under socialism? Sure, there may be some people who are better off under rampant statism – namely, some politicians and lobbyists. But this it hardly a generalizable phenomenon. We cannot all be made better off at each others expense. You should know this already, but you deny it because it would destroy your argument.

    Yes, they are unknowable, the proven fact is subjective value.

    You have provided absolutely no argument for your claim that it is logically impossible to determine whether capitalism or socialism does a better job of maximizing welfare. You have only provided unfounded assertions.

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