Tuesday, December 06, 2016

John Locke, Natural Moral Law, and Human Moral Convention

264 days until I am sitting in my first class.

Time keeps on slipping by.

I have a few people looking at “A Motive Consequentialist Theory of Condemnation and Punishment”. We will see what I get back in terms of edits. Once those edits are in, then I will distribute it to a wider audience.

In the meantime, I have been looking at what I should write next – and it seems like it may be something of practical political importance. With the election of Donald Trump, I am thinking that some things need to be said about reforming the political system to prevent the harms that the current systems inflict on innocent people.

As I see it, the current system is leading to the establishment of “corporate feudal fiefdoms” where those who have the money to hire batteries of lawyers and “public relations” forms are setting themselves as – literally – owners of the Earth to whom the rest of us must either agree to be servants or . . . well . . . be invited to leave (or, what amounts to the same thing, to go off into some corner and die).

My reason for writing it is that this simply seems to be what is on my mind recently. In it, I am combining many of the claims that I have made here and on Facebook since Trump’s elections (and some themes I have discussed before that).

Part of my inspiration for this comes from John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government - which I have now read once and I am going through a second time to try to make sure that I capture important points.

Indeed, one of the things that I am going to put into this paper as I write it is a criticism of some of Locke's main points

Here's the biggest difference between Locke and myself.

Locke believes that there are intrinsic moral values - some things are just intrinsically good. He calls this the "law of reason" and - one of the dictates of the law of reason - is that it is intrinsically wrong for one person to take the property of another. This violates a law of nature and is to be considered as a declaration of war on the part of the taker against the original owner of the property. Locke also states that if the taker takes even a single grain of wheat to eat or crumb of bread from one who has plenty, this is comparable to threatening to kill the owner and it becomes legitimate, in turn, to kill the would-e thief for protection.

I deny that there are any intrinsic values. There are, instead, the rules that people agree upon for their mutual well-being. This may very well include a rule to take some grains of wheat from those who have plenty - and to give those grains of wheat to those who have none. If those who have plenty want to complain about the rule - let them return to a state of nature where they have nobody from which to trade or to bargain, and survive by their own effort. The fact that the substantial portion of their possessions (more than enough to see them fed, clothed, and well taken care of) are secure in a state of civil society should be sufficient incentive to agree to the bargain.

Besides, people in a state of nature have no reason to agree to a set of rules that makes a small portion of humanity the owners of everything - or nearly everything - forcing the vast majority of humanity to serve substantially as their servants for food and medical care - and to be discarded (left without food or medical care) if it should be the case that those who own the planet and all things on it have no interest in their welfare, or cannot find a use for them.

The sentiments from which Locke draws his rules of property are certainly sentiments that the very wealthy would like all of us to have - a sentiment by which we agree that there is a natural and intrinsic right that they own the bulk of the Earth and that the rest of us have a duty to be their servants for scraps. And they have the money to promulgate this view and to create and reinforce these sentiments within us. However, they are just sentiments, and they do not, in fact, identify an intrinsic moral law. It is just a way of seducing us into a set of beliefs that make us peaceful and obedient servants - as opposed to free and independent people demanding a different set of rules where the earth and its products are more evenly divided.

The arguments for this position are going to find their way into this new paper that I am writing. It will effectively be a treatise - like Locke's treatise - regarding the rules by which we should regard each other and the attitudes we should take towards the government and its laws - and those who manipulate the structure of institutions to make themselves masters of the Earth and the rest of us their servants.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Expanding the Circle of Trade

I was asked to explain my view on trade - why I think Trump will make America a poorer nation and its people less well off.
So . . . consider this:

Is it a good idea to build a wall around the United States, build everything within the United States, keep all of the jobs here, and trade with nobody?

A great idea to make the United States a wealthier country . . . right?

Well, if it is such a great idea – why not then build a wall around each state and prohibit trade with any other state. Let us build all of our cars, air conditioners, medical equipment, movies, iPhones, doctors, engineers, internet search engines, computers – everything in Colorado. According to the plan mentioned above, each state would then become much more prosperous than it is now. Colorado, Maine, Rhode Island, Hawaii – each of them will become more prosperous if it was making everything locally.

But, then, if that is such a good idea – we can create even more prosperity if we put a wall around each county. Let each county do all of its manufacturing locally – every car, airplane, piece of office furniture, every bushel of wheat – all produced in one’s local county. Now, we will be wealthier still, according to this plan. We will have tons of jobs in our county. (I’d have to go back to Boulder County – but – I am certain they would find work for me.)

Yet, if that is the road to prosperity – how about building everything on one’s local block. Just take everybody on your block and refuse to trade with anybody else. All of your medical care, food, shelter, clothing, furniture – all of the energy you consume and the light bulbs you build – all scientific research is done by people on your block. Boy, would you have a whole lot of jobs to do! The people on your block would be so wealthy!

But, we can go further. Have everything done in your household. Put a wall around your building and tell your family that they cannot trade with anybody outside of that wall. You are going to take care of everything yourself. If a child breaks an arm – you’ll handle it. If you need food – you will grow your own. Cut off the electricity and all communication with the outside world – you will manufacture your own electrical power and the machines that use that power – all without even referencing information that people on the outside of the wall might have learned. Would it be even imaginable that you could be any wealthier than this?

Well, actually you could be. Let nobody in your family trade with anybody else. Everybody has to manufacture their own food, their own clothing, provide their own shelter, take care of their own medical needs, as if each was living alone on a very small island, trading with nobody. There is no greater wealth imaginable than to do everything yourself, according to this way of thinking.

Of course, this is not the case. As this example shows, we get wealthier by enlarging the numbers of people we trade with – not by decreasing it. You are wealthier when you can trade with other members of your family and split up the chores that need to be done.

Your family is wealthier when its members can trade with people outside of your family – when it can buy groceries from the grocery store, medical care from the medical facility, a car from a car dealership, education from professional educators.

The people of Colorado are made wealthier – not poorer – because they can buy software from Seattle, movies from Hollywood, medical research from Boston, and can go on vacation in Orlando.

Similarly, the United States is made wealthier – not poorer – when it trades with countries outside of the United States.
Now, it is true that every time the circle grows larger, certain types of jobs are lost. Because you trade with the grocery store, your family has “lost work” in that its members are no longer growing its own food. When you trade with a clothing store rather than create your own clothing (including the raising of your own sheep), you have “exported jobs” out of your household and those jobs have been “imported” by other families. However, this trade makes both households wealthier – it does not make each household poorer.

Trump’s economic plan will, in effect, make the United States a poorer country. We will have fewer goods and services available to buy, and that which is available will become far more expensive. We may have more “jobs” in a sense – but that is the case in the same way that the people in your household would have far more work to do if they decided to grow their own food and create their own clothes.

Locke on Property

268 days from today . . . I will be nervously awaiting the start of my first class.

I am putting some effort into establishing contacts in the department – so it will likely be just another day. But, still, a milestone day.

My current projects are:

(1) I have finished a draft of A Motive Consequentialist Theory of Condemnation and Punishment.

I have posted it on the Desirism facebook group to see if I could solicit a volunteer to edit it. Every time I go through something I have written I end up rewriting it - and I simply want that to stop. So, I have asked for somebody besides me to go through it.

Then, once I do those edits, I will distribute it more widely for comments. I am thinking I will not distribute it among the philosophy department - as I do not want to be known as a presumptuous bother. Besides, I may use it for my Master's Thesis and there are restrictions as to who may read and comment on a Master's Thesis.

(2) I have started the Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government - which is the famous one. I have gotten through Chapter 5 - on Property - which I will reread again tomorrow owing to its significance. I do say, I have a somewhat different perspective after having read the Fist Treatise - the one that people almost always skip. In that treatise, Locke effectively established the equality among men (and women) which he uses as a premise in this Treatise.

However, I was bothered as I read through the chapter on property because I kept thinking of the harm and suffering that those words have brought into the world. The argument presented there would sound great in a world that was sparsely populated, and he makes reference to the vast wilderness of the United States. However, in the world we face today, continuing to use Locke's principles leads to a state where the whole of the earth - indeed, the whole solar system - becomes the property of a few people for whom the rest of humanity - in need of food, shelter, and medical care and having no more of nature that they can claim as their own - are reduced to servitude.

The invention of money, according to Locke, justifies the enlargement of estates and, if a person should hoard some resources, he does no harm to others so long as they do not spoil or waste in his possession, and he can trade them with others who have a use for them.

He that gathered a hundred bushels of acorns or apples, had thereby a property in them, they were his goods as soon as gathered. He was only to look, that he used them before they spoiled, else he took more than his share, and robbed others. And indeed it was a foolish thing, as well as dishonest, to hoard up more than he could make use of. If he gave away a part to any body else, so that it perished not uselesly in his possession, these he also made use of. And if he also bartered away plums, that would have rotted in a week, for nuts that would last good for his eating a whole year, he did no injury; he wasted not the common stock; destroyed no part of the portion of goods that belonged to others, so long as nothing perished uselesly in his hands. Again, if he would give his nuts for a piece of metal, pleased with its colour; or exchange his sheep for shells, or wool for a sparkling pebble or a diamond, and keep those by him all his life he invaded not the right of others, he might heap up as much of these durable things as he pleased; the exceeding of the bounds of his just property not lying in the largeness of his possession, but the perishing of any thing uselesly in it.

However, his whole argument makes the assumption that others have something that they can use to trade for what this individual is hoarding. His right to barter away plums requires that the person who needs the plums has something to offer in exchange. Against this objection, too, he answers that the world is not yet so densely populated that there is no place where a person can go to fence off a bit of unused nature (specifically, in the middle of America) and acquire what he needs that way.

We are long past the day when a person, who otherwise had nothing, need to simply reach out a hand into unclaimed nature and pluck what he needs to survive. We are at a point where the necessities of survival come from those who have already claimed everything - if not in name, at least as a matter of fact - for themselves. The requirement that there be "as much and as good left for others" is no longer met.

Nor was Locke writing in a time where "mixing one's labor" involves the use of a massive steam shovel, or massive fishing nets, or other pieces of equipment that allow people to harvest at a single moment huge amounts of nature's bounty.

Or was he concerned with a situation where the vast majority of future resources are available only to the very wealthy, who are the only ones who can reach them and mix their labor with them. I am referring here to the resources of space. Only the very wealthy can reach these objects and mix their labor with it. So, by the rules established in Locke's second treatise, for all practical effect, the wealthy have claimed the whole of the solar system as their own, which they may take possession of - and then use this to demand service from the rest of us for any benefit they may be able to provide. Again, the wealthy become wealthier, and reduce the rest of humanity to be their servant in exchange for the benefits of what, at one time, was held in common with no rightful owner.

In this, the wealthy maintain their "right" to the ownership of the whole earth and the "duty" of the rest of humanity to serve them in exchange for the necessities and comforts of life by promoting those philosophies that grant them this "right" as the one, true and correct way of being. There is no mystery as to why these philosophers and their philosophies are the ones that those with money take such great pains to tells us provide the true and correct rules governing the relationships among people. These are the rules that state that they have a right to the ownership of the whole solar system, and the rest of us a duty to be their servants. What other philosophy would they be expected to promote?

Not that this is some type of secret conspiracy. Rather, when one reads that the philosophy gives them the right to the ownership of the whole solar system and others a duty be their servants, this "feels right" to them and, from this, they conclude that it "is right" and, thus, they put their efforts into promoting that which they sincerely believe to be true and good. Yet, as a matter of fact, there is no sound reason behind it - only a desire to own the whole of the solar system and to have the rest of humanity be one's servants.

In fact, there is no wrong in the rest of humanity saying that, insofar as all of this wealth existed in common for all of humanity, we should decide upon whatever rules for usage that gives its benefit to all of humanity. And when the very wealthy say, "By the power and right vested in me by the words of John Locke, this is mine, and you shall be entitled to no benefit from it except what I should choose to give you - depending on the degree that I am pleased with your service to me," there is no wrong in denying that claim.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Lesson of Trump

I have been told by a worthy commenter that I should join a political party and thereby learn how politics really works. And this by a person who brags about sitting beside a politician he helped to get elected.

Notwithstanding the fact that I have, in my life, worked in three political parties (Libertarian, Republican, and Democrat), this commenter brings to mind what has been a long struggle - a struggle between truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity on the one hand, and power without regard to truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity.

I am called childish and moronic because of my interest is in the former and not in the latter. It is better to have power without regard for truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity, then to pursue truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity without power. The latter, in fact, is an utter waste of time.

It is a mistake at the start to consider these mutually exclusive ends.

Each person has an interest in both to different degrees. And, in fact, the ideal world is not one in which one of these conquers the other, but one that unites truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity with power.

In fact, that was the very point of the post in which this commenter was responding. It was a post in which I expressed my worry over the fact that a massive gap has appeared between truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity on the one hand, and power on the other. People have voted to give power to the person who has the least understanding of truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity. In that post, I wondered how to close that gap - I wondered how to empower truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity. For that, I was called naïve, childish, moronic, and in need of an education in politics.

One could advance the plan, "First, you get power - without regard for truth or justice, or as to whether one's promises will, if enacted, bring about a benefit to humanity - without a regard for anything but getting power. Then, once in power, do that which is just and benefits humanity."

This plan, of course, requires that the winner know what is true, what justice requires, and what benefits humanity. This, in turn, seems to require that there be somebody interested in studying those issues and answering those questions.

However, my commenter seems to think that only a childish moron will interest himself in truth, justice, and the benefit of humanity - because it is the mere fact that one shows an interest in these topics, it seems, that makes one is worthy of the label.

So, it is only power for its own sake, and not for the sake of what is true, just, or a benefit to humanity that matters.

In fact, it is this complete disregard for truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity that seems to be, "the lesson of Trump." The one thing we must all learn from his success is that any interest any of us may have or have had in truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity must be discarded as the interests of a naïve moron. The lesson of Trump is to set those childish things aside and seek nothing but power for its own sake.

Well, I am afraid that I am a slow learner. If what we are to learn from the fact that Trump has been elected is that only the naïve and childish morons are interested in truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity, I fear that I will continue to be a naïve and childish moron.

I have opted to disregard The Lesson of Trump and return to my original question: How do we empower truth, justice, and the betterment of humanity?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Finishing the Last Paper, Planning the Next

In 271 days I attend my first class.

Recent projects include reading John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism, and starting John Locke 's Two Treatise on Civil Government.

I am actually including the first treatise, which is usually skipped, and for good reason. In it, Locke argues against a Sir Robert Filmer, who used scripture to defend the absolute power and divine right of kings. Locke argues that scripture contains no such proof.

I, of course, hold that scripture provides a foundation for nothing in morals or politics, it being the imaginative fictions of substantially ignorant tribes. Still, it is an interesting cultural study of what once was - and in some unfortunate parts of the world still is - thought to be an important process.

In this treatise, one can still see and be impressed by Locke's sharp mind - and surprised at how that sharp mind can treat scripture as revealed truth rather than an ancient fiction.

As a side note, he also gives an excellent account, from scripture, of the equality between men and women - or, at least, of husbands and wives. And argues that a wife's subjugation to her husband, like the pain of child birth, provides no reason to continue to suffer that state any longer than it takes to find the means to end it. This - in the late 1600s.

Oh, and I, at one time, thought of Mill as a type of motive utilitarian. He does make the noises of a motive utilitarian when discussing the love of virtue and the sentiment of justice, he does, for the most part, fit a rule-utilitarian mold.

And, I continue work on my paper - which I am now calling, "A Motive Utilitarian Account of Condemnation and Punishment."

As is usually the case, "editing" a document involves completely rewriting it - and this is no exception. However, I am going to make it a rule that, once I get done with this draft, there will be no more substantive rewrites unless evidence is found that I have made a significant error. Instead, I intend to do what philosophers had done generally - which is to create a new edition that addresses some concerns and mentions some additional implications, but the structure of the paper will not change.

I have, as promised, added footnotes and citations - linking to the works of other authors.

I am not mentioning desirism because (1) I still find it a bit pretentious to have my own ethical theory, and (2) I do not want to clutter the discussion. However, in the conclusion of the paper I will point out how the considerations raised in the paper actually yield an implication that utilitarianism - as traditionally understood - is flawed. Motives are not ultimately to be evaluated according by the degree to which they maximize utility, but motives are to be evaluated by the degree that they fulfill or thwart other desires - this providing the reasons that exist to either promote or to inhibit the desire in question.

In this edition, whole sections have vanished - such as the section on the neuroscience of punishment. I need to study that field more before I make claims about its findings - and that is something I intend to do in graduate school. I can take a limited number of courses outside of the department - and I think a class on the neuroscience of "reward" (and punishment) will be rewarding. And the University of Colorado at Boulder has a "Center for Neuroscience" that coordinates activities in 13 departments including philosophy.

As a possible future course of action, I may send the center an email describing my research interest to see if there is anybody there willing to give me some advice on the topic. This, in turn, can be the subject of another paper.

In fact, now that I am nearly finished with this one and I am resolving not to make substantive changes, I want to start researching and working on the next paper - and I am trying to figure out what that next paper should be.

Perhaps I will build on my criticism of Peter Singer and Sam Harris and their use of "external reasons" that do not exist.

Perhaps I will write a paper on the distinction between reasons that an agent has ("to have a reason") and reasons that exist ("there exists a reason").

Perhaps I will discuss the false dichotomy of objective versus subjective morality, and how the vague definitions of these terms keep people debating something that would be settled if people only learned to speak clearly.

Perhaps I will defend my claim that J.L. Mackie is a "schmoral" realist.

Perhaps I will explain how J.S. Mill can defend his utilitarianism from the criticisms of G.E. Moore.

Perhaps I should write on a theory of excuse that describes moral excuses as statements that break the implication from what looks on the face of it to be a wrong action to the conclusion that the agent failed to have good motives.

Perhaps I will address Henry Sidgwick's objections to motives being the ultimate object of moral evaluation.

. . . . um . . . that last one. Yeah. That sounds like a good project. I have already been reading Sidgwick - and it will contribute to my project of getting a basic understanding of moral and political philosophy before classes start. Sidgwick is one of those authors that moral philosophers would be expected to have read and understood. And I will try to write it in such a way that a fan of desirism can hand it out to their friends and family and say, "See, this is what I am talking about. Morality is about evaluating motives, not about evaluating actions."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Neurobiology of Assessing Punishment

279 days until the start of class.

Don’t mind me. I only stopped by to drop something off.

From Blame to Punishment: Disrupting Prefrontal Cortex Activity Reveals Norm Enforcement Mechanisms.

It is an article on the neurobiology of how the brain determines moral culpability and the severity of wrongdoing.

Of course, there is a distinction between what the brain does, and what it should do. For example, if we took brain scans we can determine what is going on in the brains of people who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old or that there are no genetic influences on intelligence. However, the fact that we can map the thought processes of people who reach these conclusions does not imply that those conclusions are justified. Similar, brain mappings of people who make moral judgments do not show that those moral judgments are logically sound or even that they make sense.

This is what I want to do as a moral philosopher – look at the logical relationships between the different features involved in “norm enforcement” – not just the mechanical process. This is how we can determine when the brain is functioning well, and when it is functioning poorly.

I wanted to put this here because I am going to be referring to it during the long holiday weekend. Reading this and the articles that it references is what I will be doing for fun and enjoyment over the next several days.

(And another article for future reading: Reinforcement Learning Signal Predicts Social Conformity)

(See also Editorial: What Determines Social Behavior? Investigating the Role of Emotions, Self-Centered Motives, and Social Norms)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Party of Reason and Progress

I dislike it when people steal my ideas before I even have a chance to come up with them. It's so rude!

The biggest culprits in history have been David Hume, John Stuart Mill, R.M. Hare, and J.L. Mackie. But a contemporary example that just came to light is David McAfee - who has taken my idea of a new kind of third party based on reason and evidence.

He calls my invention the Party of Reason and Progress.

He has compounded his offense by actually putting some effort into starting this party, promoting it, and getting it started.

The cad!

As with the other people mentioned above, McAfee did not steal my ideas precisely. There are some differences, which I would like to comment on.

Before I do, there is an important point that I want to make. There seems to be a strong disposition for critics to adopt the attitude of, "If you do not agree with me in all things, you deserve to fail, and I will oppose you in all you do." This is an irrational position to adopt. Anybody who insists on perfect agreement with their ideas condemns themselves to being alone and impotent. No two people have exactly the same beliefs, so if one is going to work with other people one is necessarily going to work with people with whom they disagree.

That being said, it is not a reason to refrain from addressing those matters of disagreement - particularly in an organization that values reason.

Admittedly, what I called a "party" used the term lightly, since its members would be advised to join that political party in their district that is likely to select the next winning candidate. If one lives in a Republican district, then party members should join the Republican party; and if in a Democratic district, one should join the Democratic party. The reason is to have the maximum influence on deciding the person who will actually be sworn into office.

As a merely educational organization, PORP is not offering anything substantially different from other organizations that aim at promoting evidence-based policy making. In that case, it would be more useful for its members to join - and thereby to augment the strength of - one of the organizations that already exists. However, the idea being presented here of having its members join the political party that dominates its district provides it with a way of influencing elections that is currently not being tried.

This leads to a second point of difference between what I would recommend and what the Party of Reason and Progress is planning.

According to a posting on the blog Danthropology, PORP intends to focus on helping the Democratic Party.

While the party is going to focus on Democrats, for now, it would be wonderful to see it expand in the future and help elect third-party candidates at a more local level and build a true reason based party.

This causes me to ask whether this is actually going to be a "party of reason and progress" or whether, instead, it is going to be a "party of rationalizing the policies of the Democratic party."

This risk, I think, is augmented by the fact that the organization name contains the term "progress" in the name. While progress, generally conceived, is a good idea, this may be taken to suggest that its organizers have prejudged the "progressive" ideology as containing all truth and wisdom and that all good evidence necessarily supports this belief. It is as dogmatic as believing that all good evidence will support the Bible or some other religious text.

Actually, I do not think that the Democratic Party in general, or progressives in particular, have a monopoly on intelligence and wisdom. There are areas where Republicans support the better and wiser policy position, and where Democrats - with their ties to particular special interests - have adopted unreasonable and irrational views in order to curry favor with those groups.

In order to combat this potential bias, I think it would be a mistake to simply slap away anything Republican and, instead, to challenge Republicans to, "come here and show us what you have".

Accordingly, as with all things that exist in degrees, it is as true among Republicans as it is among Democrats that some are more rational and responsive to reason than others. Consider, for example, the Republican 2012 Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman who tweeted, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and I trust scientists on climate change. Call me crazy."

For my own part, I think that, when it comes to climate change, once it is admitted that the scientists know what they are talking about, the best course of action to pursue in the light of those facts are to follow the plan favored by market economists - to try to solve the problem by internalizing the costs rather than by adopting a body of complex and confusing regulations.

These, then, would be my two initial recommendations.

(1) Have its members join whatever political party that dominates their region (if any) and work within the primary process to help that party select the best candidate possible for the general election.

(2) Do not assume that progressivism has the one true and accurate set of solutions for all the world's problems and, instead, look outside of that political ideology when seeking real-world solutions to real-world problems.

John Stuart Mill's ON LIBERTY

279 days until the first day of classes.

I have just finished John Stuart Mill's book On Liberty.

I seriously recommend reading it. Consider the views of somebody writing purely from an interest in the public good, some of whose views will agree with your own, and some of which are like those of political rivals you might consider the enemies of civilization. Yet, he gives good arguments for them - showing that "political rivals" are not necessarily villains.

It is surprising how many things said over 150 years ago are no different from assertions made today.

This book is in the public domain, so none of these options cost any money.

I read a copy of the book that I found on Bartleby.com.

You might prefer a PDF file that you can upload into your favorite reader.

Or, you can get an audio version to listen to.

However it is done, it will take perhaps 4 to 5 hours - and it is a valuable way to be spending 4 or 5 hours out of one's life.

While I was doing this - and other things - I did not make much progress on the "Moral Aversion Theory of Punishment". Or, actually, I did - since I read Mill because I wanted to find out what he might have said on the subject of that paper.

And he did have something to day.

Mill, in his essay On Liberty argued that harm to others not only defined the limits of criminal law, but it also identified the limits of social condemnation. In other words, he argues for a limit to our use, not only of state punishment, but of private social punishments, based on a principle of harm to others. Any behavior that an individual can engage in that concerns only his own legitimate interests is behavior that people have no right to respond to with moral criticism.

In fact, Mill was more concerned with limiting moral criticism than he was with limiting civil punishments. Social criticism, he argued, can be far more powerful - seeping into every corner of a person's life - areas where such a blunt instruments as the criminal law can not hope to enter.

He does not provide a particularly strong example of the type of issue he is concerned with. However, in considering some of his views, I think that a primary set of examples would be those of women who wanted to step outside of her traditional gender roles. Even if the law did not prohibit it, private morality still made it nearly impossible for a woman to become a politician, or a business leader, or a research scientist, or captain a ship. Because the woman who seeks such a life does harm to nobody but herself, if she does harm at all, then it is nobody's business but hers whether she engage in these pursuits. The rest of society should just back off and let her live the life she wants for herself.

In fact, this fits in with the ideas that I wrote into "The Moral Aversion Theory of Punishment." I argued that private punishment be used to promote aversions to lying or breaking promises. With the exception of lying under oath or the breaking of serious contracts, generally we do not give the state permission to become involved in the common promise-breakings and lies that individuals may tell each other. These are not appropriate objects of civil punishments - but they are still the appropriate objects of condemnation and anger.

This same type of moral condemnation is not applicable to matters where people have reason to enjoy a non-obligatory permission. What a person wears, what they eat, the entertainments they enjoy, the peaceful practices of their religion that they engage in - none of these can be made the proper object of moral condemnation.

The same applies to the professions (or hobbies) that a woman might want to engage in . . . or a man, for that matter, since men, too, are limited by a society that considers certain ways of living to be "unmanly" and, thus, subject those who men who pursue those options to condemnation and ridicule.

This does not meant that we cannot criticize decisions such as these. The right to freedom of speech gives us the right to criticize even when we are wrong. However, criticism is possible without condemnation. The claim, "I think you are making a mistake" means something quite different from, "I think you are perverse and deserve to be condemned."

Next, I am going to turn my attention to Mill's Utilitarianism. I once argued that one can give a motive-utilitarian interpretation to his theory of right action. I am wondering if I can find my reasons for that conclusion again, or if it was something I merely imagined.

What Makes a Country Great?

Make America Great?

Let's look at this. When you think of a great country, what is it that you think of?

One way to imagine greatness is to imagine a future history book looking back on these times.

Future students - will they see these events as a source of pride? Or as a source of embarrassment? Will these events stand in a spotlight? Or will it be a historical era that future historians gloss over because it is just too embarrassing?

We elected as our leader a bully - a person who seems to be incapable of going a day without abusing (verbally or otherwise) other people. If this is greatness, then contempt for others must be great.

We have elected as our leader a pathological liar. In my imagination, a great leader of a great country stands up before the country and tells them the truth and rallies them, in the face of that truth, to change the world and make a greater truth. Nothing Trump says can be trusted. If he were to go on the air and announce that a terrorist attack had been thwarted, all those with a respect for honesty would have to disbelieve him, until evidence came from another, reliable source. If this is greatness, then honesty and truth are a corruption which no great nation would aspire to.

One of the reasons why we cannot get the truth out of our President is because he does not know the truth. I do not know the biographies of every President, but I think it would be a challenge for a historian to name any that was as pathetically uninformed - as painfully ignorant - of the facts of the world as Donald Trump. When future generations generate lists of "the 10 stupidest American presidents", please let this forever be the bottom of that particular list. I want no future generation to surpass us on this measure.

If we had been lucky, this would have happened in a time when we could simply sweep the Trump presidency under the metaphorical rug and - after selecting a competent leader in 2020 - pretend that the intervening four years did not exist. The history books could have gone from Obama to whomever follows with just a few words about what happened in between.

Unfortunately, we selected an idiot for President at exactly the time when we could least afford to have an idiot for President. Future generations are going to watch their cities (and whole countries) disappear under rising seas and ask, "When did this happen? What was the pivotal decision?" Future historians will have little choice but to point to the year 2016 - the year that America "the greatest country on Earth" - elected an idiot for President.

They will also likely be looking back on decades of global violence and ask, "How did this happen?" They will trace its roots to the time when America abandoned justice and embraced injustice. They will trace the cause to our decision to abandon tactful and intelligent diplomacy and replace it with brute force and blunt trauma - inflicting suffering on millions who had done nothing to deserve it. Behavior that will, without a doubt, create in countless people a desire to strike back against the authors of those injustices - and to ally themselves with any who have the power to do so.

There is a chance, however slight, that the world can correct for our mistake. The rest of the world has an option to deal intelligently and rationally with the challenges of our time and, thus, be the heroes that save future generations from the suffering that they would have endured with Trump's America serving as an actual world leader.

But this is not "making America great". This is "making America so pathetic that its greatest contribution to the world's problems would be to go to its room, close the door, and not bother the grownup nations as they deal intelligently with these problems."

And there is a chance that this may be premature. Trump lacks intelligence, wisdom, or any actual concern for the welfare of others. But perhaps he is not so great a fool that he cannot recognize his own incompetence - and not so lacking in compassion that he lacks the motivation to put competent people in charge of making actual decisions. His first two weeks as President Elect give us little reason to hope. Like arrogant idiots throughout history, he mistakes flattery for competence, and gives to the flatterer what he should give to the competent.
Make America great?

A great nation values honesty, integrity, and deals intelligently and rationally to provide real-world solutions to real-world problems.

On that measure, we are not making America great. We are making America an embarrassment.

We have done exactly what a great nation would never have done. It would take the greatest self-deception to see the next four years as a period of greatness. It will be a period of injustice and ignorance that spread suffering that a more intelligent and virtuous nation - a greater nation - could have avoided.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A New Kind of Third Party

Do you like the idea of a "Third Party"?

This, I think, is an idea for a third party that can actually make substantive change.

This idea comes out of several different discussions, both before and after the last elections, regarding third parties, open primaries, and related matters.
In two years, 99.9% of the candidates elected will be either a Democrat or a Republican. Screaming about it won't change anything. It's a fact of the world we live in. If you want the next representative, senator, governor, council member, or whatever to more closely represent your views, you need to make sure that the next Democrat or Republican selected in your district better represents your views.

There is no value in voting for a losing candidate. The only measure of political success that means anything is getting your candidate elected.

Now, of these candidates, the vast majority will be selected in the primaries - not the general election. The vast majority of political districts in this country are one-party districts. The person who will be sworn in at the start of the new term is the person that the dominant party selects for that position.

All of this means that, if you want to have a say in government, you must devote your energies to deciding who the dominant party will select for that position. Everything else is just playing around.

So, here's the idea for a new political party.

I would like to call it, "The Party of Truth and Reason." This is a bit presumptuous, but names can be a bit presumptuous. By the way, it will not be the case that the party judges that it is the perfect and final arbiter of truth and reason. Rather, this identifies its goal - its ideal - never fully achieved, but always that which it aims for.

The way that this party works is that, if one party dominates the legislative district such that whoever that party selects to run the general election is the person who will be sworn in, then all of its members will register with that dominant party. If it is a Republican district, they register as Republicans. If it is a Democratic district, its members register as Democrats.

Remember, the goal of the party is to influence who actually gets sworn into office. It finds no value in spending time and resources on those who have no hope of winning.

The party does most of its work in the primaries, helping the dominant party select the most honest, reasonable, and rational candidate among those available. It can even run one of its own members. Here, too, it will not waste its efforts on candidates that have no chance of winning the election. It will look at those who have a chance of winning and, among them, put its efforts and political influence behind the most honest, rational, and reasonable among them.

I find it interesting to think about what would happen if this political party actually got to select candidates. A state legislature comes into session. In it, it is discovered that the Party of Truth and Reason backed four Honest and Rational Republicans, and three Honest and Rational Democrats. As the legislative session begins, perhaps it can host a dinner, and bring those Republicans and Democrats together and tell them, "We expect you to work together to create rational legislation based on the best scientific evidence."

Naturally, the more people one can find in a region willing to join in this project the more powerful the group will be. However, even one person can make a difference.

This would be a third party that has an actual chance of influencing the next election for the better. For somebody who actually has an interest in a third party, I would suspect that a third party that can make a real difference would be preferable to a third party that takes like-minded people out of the electoral process and have them throw away their votes.