Old Business: Censure
Old Business: Censure
According to a Reuters news story, White House spokesman Scott McClellan, when discussing Feingold’s proposed censure of the President, answered by saying, “...if Democrats want to argue that we shouldn't be listening to al Qaeda communications, it's their right and we welcome the debate.”
Again, the issue is not about whether we should or should not be listening to al Qaeda communications. The question is whether the White House is listening to other communications. The Administration has lied in the past about what it is doing. There is reason to suspect that it is lying now. The purpose of judicial oversight is to make sure that the Administration is listening in on (suspected) al Qaeda communications and not, for example, expanding his spying program to include anybody who criticizes Administration policy – or that it is not spying for profit and selling information in exchange for campaign contributions.
The main point here is that McClellan lied. A lie is a statement that asserts a proposition that one knows is not true. Now, I may be giving McClellan too much credit, but I think he knows that this statement is not true. However, it is a useful lie – some people actually believe it and learn to hate the group (Democrats) that McClellan is trying to target. In making this statement, McClellan clearly is more interested in a useful fiction than in truth. Because of his interest in a useful fiction, I must ask once again, why should we believe what he says about the scope and nature of warrantless spying on Americans?
McClellan's statement is a flat-out lie. If the American people were more willing to condemn those who do not present the nature of the issue under discussion honestly, we would be able to benefit by the honest debates that are actually on-topic that would result. Such statements prove the fundamental dishonest and disinterest in truth on the part of those who make them. Even if one is a Republican, one should be asking whether they endorse fundamental dishonesty on the part of those who speak for the Party.
New Business: “Which Do You Rescue?”
You find yourself in a blazing fertility clinic - the fire is ferocious. In one corner there is a two year old girl. In another, there is a petri dish with five fertilized blastula in it. You can rescue one or the other, but not both. Which do you rescue, the girl or the petri dish?
We must add the assumption that the potential rescuer knows that all five blastula would be implanted. Without this, there would be no more of a moral requirement to choose to rescue the blastula (instead of the child) than to rescue five infants on life support who would die within minutes of rescue anyway.
At any rate, my view is that an entity without desires has no interests, and thus has no interests in being rescued. Thus, the blastulae can justifiably be left behind.
However, in accepting that conclusion, I do not believe that all roads that lead to that conclusion are equally sound. These “who would you rescue?” arguments are completely invalid.
The only way that this argument could be valid is if it were possible to go from the premise, “I would rescue X” to “I ought to rescue X”. However, this leaps the famous canyon between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ at a place where there is no valid bridge.
To illustrate the problem with this argument, simply realize that the same argument can be used by, for example, a committed Nazi to prove that Arians are morally more significant than Jews.
You find yourself in a blazing building - the fire is ferocious. In one corner there is a two year old Arian girl. In another, there are five Jews. You can rescue the child or the Jews, but not both. Which do you rescue?
To the committed Nazi, this is an easy question. Yet, this hardly justifies the conclusion, “Then point at Wilkow and everyone else who thinks it's a real dilemma with a hard solution, and laugh uncontrollably.”
Of course, at this point some unthinking reader is prone to think, “How dare you compare abortion providers to Nazis!”
The fact is, I am not comparing abortion providers to Nazis. I am employing a logical technique of disproof by counter-example; showing that an argument is invalid by showing how somebody else (in this case a committed Nazi) can reach a similar conclusion under similar conditions – a conclusion that can clearly be rejected as absurd. In this way, I show that the form of reasoning used in “Who do you rescue?” arguments is invalid.
I reach the conclusion that one morally ought to rescue the 2-year-old child using the “no desires implies no interests” argument, not the “who you would rescue is who you should rescue” argument.
I do not use the “who you would rescue is who you should rescue” argument precisely because it is invalid. (Or, if I have used it anywhere, I will state here that it was a mistake. However, this is a fallacy I try to keep an eye out for.)
A lover of reason would not use the “who I would rescue is who I should rescue” argument. Nor would he praise others who do use it.
And yet, the comments at “Calling All Wingnuts” show that this argument drawing a significant praise. Why is that?
My theory is that people like this argument because of a tendency that I have argued against repeatedly in this blog – a tendency to “fix the intelligence to the policy”. This is the tendency to find a conclusion that one likes (e.g., “Invading Iraq would be a good thing”), then evaluating intelligence arguments according to whether or not it supports the desired conclusion. Any argument that reaches the conclusion is thereby judged to be a good argument. Anybody who comes up with an argument allegedly claiming that the policy would be a mistake is a fool and a traitor.
It is a way of thinking that is responsible for a great many of the problems we now face, and a way of thinking worthy of condemnation even when it is found among one’s policy allies.