14 December 2016
A Mistaken Response to Donald Trump’s Election
Dunkirk Fredonia Observer
December 5, 2016
A fight has broken out over how university administrators should respond to Donald Trump’s election. Underlying the fight is the question of how universities should view students.
A number of university presidents responded to Trump’s election by reporting students’ traumatic feelings. Consider the comments of State University of New York at Fredonia’s president Virginia Horvath. “[T]here was considerable disappointment in the room as the numbers of electoral votes moved closer to 270. ... Students of Color, LGBTQ students, international students, students with disabilities were dismayed—not a strong enough word—and reported to me, again and again, that the country apparently voted that they don’t matter.” She continued, “There was a lot of confusion and shock. A number of people reported physical signs of trauma: sick to their stomachs, shaking, and numb. Many were crying and holding one another.”
She then channeled their sense of oppression, “The social media comments from students continued through the rest of the night, with people expressing fear, inability to sleep, anger, and profound sadness at what they saw as affirmations of the racism, misogyny, and disrespect they associated with the campaign.” Horvath said what university presidents across the country were saying.
University of Colorado at Boulder president Phillip DiStefano said, “You may find yourself with friends, classmates or colleagues who do not share the same reactions as you. … In some cases, you, or others close to you, may feel you are experiencing or witnessing negative treatment or more subtle forms of oppression, perhaps related to the election or perhaps because of your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, country of origin, political thought or other aspect of your identity.” DiStefano then gave therapeutic advice in telling students and others how to respond to the election, “Connect with friends, family, a community or a safe space to ground and support you. … Take care of basic needs such as eating, sleeping and drinking water. Incorporate activities that recharge and relax you.”
Students elsewhere reacted similarly. The Daily Signal reported that Cornell University students
Writing in WorldNetDaily.com, conservative intellectual Jack Cashill criticized Horvath’s comments. First, he argued that Horvath was wrong to take the charge of racism seriously and that her doing so defamed Chautauqua County residents. He argued that Chautauqua County voted for Obama in 2008 and this is evidence that the county is not racist.
I might add that Trump is well-known as a long-time supporter of the gay community, both financially and personally, and well before it became popular to do so. He even opposed the North Carolina bathroom law. None of this is news to anyone who followed the election.
Second, Cashill claimed that Fredonia students had a demeaning view of the county’s voters. He argued that voters’ preferences for Trump were not unreasonable. He points out that the county’s poverty rate is 20% and 57% of the county’s students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The county’s voters might reasonably have thought that the status quo is not cutting it and preferred policies other than more debilitating handouts. Cashill suggested that Horvath should have shown more respect for the county’s residents by telling the students, “You sniveling little elitist. Grow up quick or get the hell out of here.”
Third, encouraging hothouse-flower sensitivity is not good for the students. The country is split along two very different worldviews and the left will not win every vote or Supreme Court decision. Validating students’ trauma, shock, and crying suggests that such oversensitivity is legitimate. Americans, including leading intellectuals, differ as to whether the Bible prohibits homosexuality, whether it should let in another 25% of Mexico, and whether the government should further socialize medicine and education. Students would gain more by rigorously discussing these issues than by citing trauma to excuse themselves from engaging with their opponents. Even if they are confident in the left’s solutions to these issues, students might still learn about the reasons that best support these solutions, improve their ability to think through such issues, or gain some helpful insight in the otherwise mistaken conservative views.
Fourth, there is no doubt that if, following the election, evangelical Christians, pro-lifers, or College Republicans were depressed, angry, or crying, college presidents wouldn't worry about them, let alone send out memos asking us to sympathize with their trauma. In crediting their concern with voters' racism, homophobia, etc. the presidents adopt the view of the far left critics of Trump voters. This is not an intellectually respectable position. Even if it were, they are free to broadcast their views, but should not use state channels to do so.
The broader issue is whether universities should view students as adults and intellectuals or as vulnerable teenagers who shouldn’t be expected to handle political discussions. By comparison, no one would say the same thing about young Marines disappointed by the election that they said about students. Universities will eventually have to decide whether to continue to spend more on therapeutic and other support services and less on classroom programs, especially in the most demanding majors (for example, chemistry, math, and history). They will also have to decide whether to encourage the faculty to lower standards to match some students’ poor work habits, psychological vulnerabilities, and inadequate college preparation. These decisions dovetail with the attitude one takes toward them as disappointed voters.
Universities shouldn’t baby students about the election. It validates a false and demeaning view of voters, encourages oversensitivity, and reflects universities’ far left bias. It also incorporates a view of students as children rather than adult intellectuals.
30 November 2016
The Sustainability Movement
November 22, 2016
The sustainability movement on American campuses is incredibly powerful. The problem is that it is unclear what sustainability is or whether it is worth pursuing.
Universities are focusing on sustainability with religion-like fervor. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHA), there roughly 1,300 environmental programs in the U.S., with at least one program in each state. According to the U.S. Colleges and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, roughly 700 colleges and universities signed a pledge to eliminate or offset all greenhouse gas emissions and to integrate sustainability into the curriculum. AASHA reports that there are now more than 400 student-led fossil fuel divestment campaigns in the U.S. Twenty-two U.S. universities have announced plans to eliminate their investments in fossil fuels. Hundreds of U.S. universities submit to an environmental tracking and rating system.
The conservative faculty group, National Association of Scholars, argues that the sustainability movement has further politicized many campuses by making sustainability an educational commitment rather than an idea to be discussed and debated. It also charges that campuses are spending large amounts of money on sustainability projects and positions and doing so in ways that are not financially transparent.
One problem with this movement is that it is not clear what sustainability is. Dictionary.com defines “sustainability” as “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”
One concern is what time period is relevant to long-term ecological balance. There are roughly 7.5 billion people on the planet. This is historically unprecedented. As recently as 10,000 years ago, there were no more than a few million people. There were not even one billion people until the 1800’s and only two billion in the 1920’s. The population could explode to reach 10 billion by the middle of the century. It is unclear if the long-term ecological balance is that found with 7.5 billion people or an earlier period with far fewer people. A later baseline allows for more pollution than does an earlier baseline. Picking one time period rather than another, though, is arbitrary and good policy should not depend on an arbitrary baseline.
A second concern here is whether the ecological balance that matters for sustainability changes over time. Eco-systems change with the changing climate and evolution. The last ice age ended 10,000 years ago and it included a different set of mammals. This included mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, massive cousins of the armadillo (Glyptodon), giant ground sloths, heavy ancient wolves (dire wolves), giant short-faced bears, and so on. Over the long run, animal and plant species come and go along with natural climate change and new competitors. It is implausible that people should try to protect some species against potential replacements.
If people have no duty to protect current plant and animal species that are threatened by natural changes in the environment, then it is unclear why they have a duty to protect them when they are threatened by manmade changes in the environment. That is, it is hard to see what moral duty allows people to sit idly by when a natural change in the environment wreaks havoc on some types of animals, but requires them to spring into action when manmade changes have the same effect.
If the concern is instead that harm to the environment will endanger people’s health and lives, then a third concern arises, namely, whether sustainability is designed to protect people or the environment. The two can, and sometimes do, diverge. Eliminating all manmade greenhouse gases in the near future would be unbelievably expensive. It would make billions of people poorer, shorten lives, and worsen health. Still, eliminating these gases might preserve various eco-systems. The question is whether sustainability aims to protect eco-systems, protect people’s well-being, or both. If it aims at both, then there is the issue of how to trade off people’s interests against those of the environment (specifically, the interests of animals who inhabit the environment). Without a deeper theory to explain whether there should be tradeoffs and how to think of them, the goal of sustainability is arbitrary and unjustified.
Philosophy provides various theories that would explain how to trade off animals’ and people’s interests. The best of them, utilitarianism, tells us that we should adopt those policies that maximize pleasure among all individuals, regardless of whether it is a person or animal. The problem is that if additional people lower utility by displacing too many animals, then such a theory would require that there be far fewer people and their consumption be cut back. This might be done by harshly taxing couples for having more than one child (or, perhaps, incarcerating them) and curtailing immigration from poor countries to rich ones. This might also be done by a host of new and onerous taxes on energy use, such as a value-added tax and higher taxes on gas, roads, cars, flights, and so on.
Worse, utilitarianism might require that people artificially change environments so that they support more utility-enjoying animals. This opens the door to questions such as whether there are too many or too few killer whales or elephants in the same way that it opens the door to whether there are too many or too few Chinese or Indians. Utilitarianism does not necessarily require that we not harm the environment. If utilitarianism justifies sustainability, then sustainability is not a fundamental goal.
A fourth concern is what constitutes harm to the environment. There is an issue as to whether it consists of a setback to the number of species (diversity), amount of life (biomass), or some combination of these things. If it consists of a combination, then, again, we need a justification of when a loss of one at the expense of the other would constitute harm. In addition, further issues arise such as whether the mere addition of a species to an environment that lessens neither diversity nor biomass harms the environment.
In the absence of a principled theory, sustainability should not be given so many resources in academia. Universities should reconsider their sustainability faculty and staff hires, dazzling array of sustainability classes, recycling and other environmental programs, etc. Also, the unquestioning commitment to sustainability should be revisited. No longer should it receive the faith-based acceptance that is more appropriate for a religion than a campus program of study.
16 November 2016
Are Drunk Driving Laws Too Harsh?
November 15, 2016
Drunk driving occurs when someone drives a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If a driver is over 21, it is illegal for him to drive with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 (g/dl) or greater.
Drunk driving kills people. In 2014, 31% of the U.S. traffic fatalities for the year (roughly 10,000 deaths) involved a drunk driver (BAC of at least .08). Most of those who died were the drunk drivers (64%).
The bulk of these accidents involved very drunk drivers, not buzzed ones. Roughly seven out of ten of these accidents had a driver with a sky high BAC level of .15 or higher. This is relevant as the .08 limit is easily met. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a light woman is over the limit if she drinks two beers in an hour and a medium sized woman hits it with three. In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended the limit be reduced still further to .05. A medium sized male would be over the limit if he drank two beers in an hour.
This low threshold results in a large number of people being arrested for drunk driving. In 2014, over 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence. That is roughly one arrest for every two hundred licensed drivers.
The penalties for drunk driving are harsh. In New York, the penalty for a first-offense DWI, where the driver has a BAC of .08% to .18%, results in an administrative license suspension of at least six months. The suspension is one year for drivers with a BAC of .18% or more or for drivers under 21 years old. The overall cost of such a conviction is probably around $10,000. This includes lost wages, attorney’s fees, court-ordered fines, car insurance increase, traffic school, substance abuse education courses, Department of Motor Vehicles fees, ignition interlock devices, towing and storage, and bail. Other states have more severe punishments.
These punishments are too harsh. In general, a punishment should be proportional to the crime. More specifically, punishment should be proportional to the offender’s blameworthiness or, perhaps, the product of his blameworthiness and the harm to another that he caused or risked causing.
Per incident, driving drunk is not dangerous. In 2009, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 1.1 traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven. According to Christopher Ingraham writing in The Washington Post, when legally drunk (0.08% blood alcohol content), one’s chance of being in an accident involving a traffic death triples, but even then, 3.3 traffic deaths per 100 million miles driven is very small. To put it in perspective, the average licensed driver driving drunk whenever he drives would, roughly, have to drive for more than 2,000 years before being involved in a traffic death. Another way to put it is that a person who drives drunk every time he drives and who drives the average distance per driver per year would have to go more than 27 lifetimes before he was involved in a traffic death.
Here is another way to see the danger using older numbers. In Confronting Drunk Driving, H. Lawrence Ross points out that the chance of dying in a five-mile car trip is about one in ten million. The typical driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.1% is five times more likely than someone sober to be in an accident. Since the initial risk is so incredibly low, anything that multiplies that risk even tenfold would not create a substantial risk. Note that this likely overstates the risk as the fatalities per mile driving are decreasing. According to an article by Ken Bogen in Risk Analysis, the increased risk of drunk driving relative to sober driving is equivalent to that imposed by a nighttime drive by a seventy-year-old as compared with a daytime drive by a forty-year-old.
Not only is drunk driving not dangerous per incident, it is common. 20% of drivers self-report having driven after drinking and 8% of drivers self-report having driven drunk.
Consider whether people who drive moderately drunk are blameworthy. Among the large number of drunk drivers, many people don’t consider the risk or judge the risk worthwhile and thus lack blameworthy mental states. Even if we focus on negligence, most people do not think that driving tired or night-driving for three hours or more is unjustifiably dangerous and yet these pose roughly the same risk as driving drunk.
Here is another way to see this. We generally don’t think the state should severely punish people for driving tired or night-driving for three hours or more. In most cases, drunk driving (when the driver is not very drunk) is similar to driving tired or at night for three hours. Hence, in most cases, the state should not severely punish drunk drivers. Similarly, in a 2006 study in Human Factors, David Strayer et al. found that using a cell phone (talking, hitting buttons, or texting) is as dangerous as drunk driving. Yet the penalties for the latter are much lower. This is even true for texting while driving.
An objection is that drunk-driving harm can be efficiently deterred through a very severe punishment that is infrequently applied. If a harm to another can be efficiency deterred through very severe punishment that is infrequently applied, then the state should impose such a punishments. Even if the punishment is efficient, it might still be disproportionate. The state can likely cut down cheating on taxes, hiring illegal aliens, and car theft by instituting mandatory twenty-year sentences for these crimes, but this penalty would be too harsh. Also, the life-saving benefit of severely punishing drunk driving has to be weighed against its cost in the same way that the benefit of a life-saving 55 mph speed limit has to be weighed against its cost.
The drunk driving laws are too harsh and disproportionate to the crime.
02 November 2016
The System is Rotten
October 31, 2016
This election makes it clear that the American political system is corrupt. The corrupt and, often, criminal actors are (or were) in high positions in the Justice Department, FBI, State Department, Clinton Foundation, Democratic National Committee and its affiliates, Wall Street firms, and, of course, Hillary Clinton and her campaign committee. The corrupt actors in the IRS and criminal Eric Holder are yet more evidence of how rotten the system is.
The most obvious instance of corruption is the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s illegal handling of emails. In order to avoid prosecution, FBI director James Comey, rewrote federal law by arguing that it requires intention (it only requires gross negligence) and then declined to prosecute despite overwhelming evidence that she had the requisite intention.
The Justice Department gave the fellow conspirators (for example, Cheryl Mills) unprecedented access to meetings, cut sweetheart deals with conspirators, agreed to destroy evidence, and refused to follow proper procedure (using a grand jury) in order to tank the case. The low point occurred when Clinton’s team destroyed evidence after receiving a congressional subpoena not to do so and the Justice Department did nothing. This is obstruction of justice and it is a felony. It led to the conviction of Bush administration official Scooter Libby and likely would have led to the prosecution of Richard Nixon had Jerry Ford not given him a pass. All this occurred when other people in government and the military were being prosecuted for doing precisely what Clinton did.
The stench of the investigation got worse when, as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, it came out that a group headed by Clintons’ longtime moneyman, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, gave half a million dollars to the wife of the FBI official who oversaw the email investigation. Somehow, Comey and this official didn’t think this conflict of interest should cause him to recuse himself. Independent Journal Review reports that James Comey had a disturbing connection to the Clinton Foundation. Prior to his being the FBI director, he was a top official at a corporation that gave money to the foundation (Lockheed Martin), had contracts approved by Hillary Clinton’s state department, and was part of a group that paid Bill Clinton $250,000. Also, Breitbart reports that James Comey’s brother is a top official at a firm that gave nearly $1 million dollars to the Clinton election team and the Clinton Foundation.
In general, high government officials are above the law. Consider the IRS scandal, where the IRS was used as a weapon against conservative groups. Again, major players (such as Lois Lerner) perjured themselves, pleaded the Fifth, destroyed evidence, and so on, but were not prosecuted. The same is true with regard to the Fast and Furious gun-running program. Former head of the Justice Department, Eric Holder, was held in contempt of Congress because he lied about the program and then withheld evidence to Congress. Like Lerner, he skated free.
The scope of corruption is breathtaking. Wikileaks released statements by people affiliated with the Clinton Foundation admitting that the non-profit Clinton Foundation was used to raise stacks of cash for the Clintons. Donations to the foundation were used to purchase access to Hillary Clinton when she headed the State Department. The Associated Press reports that more than half of the non-government people who met with Hillary Clinton when she was head of the State Department gave money to the Clinton Foundation either directly or through companies or groups. More than half. Worse, in some cases, there is a suspicious pattern of the State’s intervention on behalf of these groups. State Department officials also tried to cover up Hillary Clinton’s email crimes.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the Justice Department blocked the FBI from investigating the Clinton Foundation for selling access to political access and favors. Does this surprise anyone?
A distinct type of corruption can be seen in Wall Street firms (especially Goldman Sachs) who paid for Hillary Clinton’s political influence. No adult thinks that the Wall Street crowd would pay Clinton $250,000 for a 20-minute speech were it not purchasing political favors. It is hard to say much of anything in 20 minutes and leaked excerpts indicate Clinton did not say anything beyond clichés.
Project Veritas showed that Democratic-affiliated groups were involved in violence at Donald Trump’s campaign and other dirty tricks that outdid anything Nixon did. Breitbart reports that a mastermind of the violence (a husband of a Democratic congresswoman from Illinois) made over 300 visits to the White House and had a couple of one-on-one meetings with Obama. Again, no prosecution.
The Democratic National Committee’s top officials (including Debbie Wasserman Schultz) resigned after it became clear that they were actively involved in sinking Bernie Sanders’ nomination. This is not merely corrupt, it is a crime.
The media collusion is sickening. It is not merely that the media who were colluding with the Clinton administration by coordinating with them, feeding them debate questions, and taking part in suspicious meetings involving the Clinton campaign and media friendlies. Two of the debates were moderated in a way that was obviously hostile to Trump. Moderator Lester Holt’s bias was eye-opening. Holt, for example, inserted himself into the debate by contradicting Trump on several issues (and, getting at least one dead wrong) and using questions that amounted to a verbal assault on Trump without a single similar question of Clinton.
Even the rigged election charge that caused the media to collapse onto the fainting couch was treated as a grave matter despite the fact that Clinton, Obama, and the media had no misgivings when Al Gore refused to recognize the election results. A recent academic study showed that more than 6% of illegal aliens voted and more than 20% of non-citizens indicated they were registered to vote in the 2008 elections. This likely affected major Congressional votes and is corruption on a grand scale.
More disturbing was the media choice to make the campaign about Donald Trump as a person rather than about issues. The discussion of many issues was thin to non-existent. Consider, for example, amnesty for illegal aliens, Obamacare, national debt, undeclared foreign wars, large numbers of adults not working, and the torturous tax code. Even the personal issues were handled in the most biased manner possible with allegations of battery by Donald Trump taken seriously and allegations that Hillary intimidated victims of Bill Clinton’s rapes and batteries ignored.
The country’s politics is awash in corruption and criminality. The light shown on the orchestrated effort of the elites to foist Hillary Clinton on us makes this clear as day.
19 October 2016
Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem
October 16, 2016
Colin Kaepernick began a preseason game by sitting during the national anthem. Afterward, he explained, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." His protest is tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. He stated that he would continue to protest until, “[the American flag] represents what it’s supposed to represent”. In the 49ers final preseason game, he knelt in protest, rather than sit, as a way of showing respect to members of the U.S. military.
In the first few weeks of the NFL season, a significant number of players joined him, including a bunch who raised their right fists during the national anthem. This was a reference to the Black Panther salute at the 1968 Olympics. Legendary running back Jim Brown, former Seattle Seahawk Juggernaut Marshawn Lynch, and U.S. women’s national soccer team player Megan Rapinoe publicly supported him. Kaepernick's jersey quickly became the top-selling one NFL jersey.
According to Mike Florio of NBC, Kaepernick and other NFL players will not be punished. Unlike the NBA, the NFL does not have a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem and the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not authorize teams to discipline players for not doing so.
Kaepernick’s protest started after he started dating a Muslim, Nessa Diab. This has an odd appearance given that, with only one or two exceptions, Muslim countries are brutally unfree. In 2014, he signed a six-year $114 million dollar contract. Still, he is morally permitted to focus on the type of injustice that speaks to him and it surely counts in his favor that would be willing to risk such a salary to speak out for what he believes.
The evaluation of Kaepernick’s protest has so far focused on his right to protest and role in encouraging discussion. This is mistaken and irrelevant. It is mistaken because while working for his employer, Kaepernick has no legal right to protest. Legally, an employer may order to employee not to antagonize customers by engaging in in political activity when on the job. Also, Kaepernick is on other people’s private property and, with certain exceptions, individuals do not have a right to express themselves on others’ property unless you lease it or the owner gives you permission.
It is irrelevant because even if Kaepernick has a right to protest, this still does not address whether he ought to do so. People have a legal right to do quite a number of moral wrongdoings. For example, a right of free speech allows one to say horrible, but true, things about others, including disclosing their darkest secrets (for example, a woman is an adulterer or the daughter of a prostitute).
Merely sparking discussion is not a good reason to protest. Al Sharpton’s anti-Semitic rants in the 90’s sparked a lot of discussion, but that didn’t make them worthwhile.
For Kaepernick’s protest to be morally permissible, it has to be true and worth bringing to people’s attention. Kaepernick’s Black Lives Matter motivation largely rests on the notion that the police are killing blacks at a disproportionate manner and, in some cases, doing so intentionally.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Manhattan Institute scholar Heather McDonald shows that this is likely false. She argues blacks make up a lower percentage of police-shooting victims (26%) than would be predicted by their much higher involvement in violent crime. In contrast, McDonald notes, whites make up 50% of police shooting victims. For example, in 2013 black criminals committed 23% more murders than white criminals, despite the fact that in the U.S. there are five times fewer black people than white people. Similarly, a recent study by Harvard economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. found no evidence of racial bias in police shootings.
Still, there are good reasons to protest the country, even if these are not the reasons that move Kaepernick. The U.S. is a lockdown nation. At any point in time, roughly one out of every one hundred adults in this country is incarcerated at any point in time. Similarly, roughly one out of every thirty five people is under the control of the criminal justice system (incarceration, parole, or probation). More generally, the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but 22-25% of its prisoners. Free countries do not keep large numbers of its own people locked up like animals. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey Silverglate argues that there is so many laws that even many ordinary citizens inadvertently commit felonies. It is unclear how those offended by Kaepernick’s kneeling would respond to criticism focusing on all these people in cages.
When it comes to blacks, Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow, points out that in some inner city communities, one out of three black men will be incarcerated at any time. She argues that this makes the country look surprisingly like the South during the time of Jim Crow.
On average, the government on all levels takes somewhere between 33% and 40% of the middle class’ and upper income’s income. The amount is higher if one considers the cost of regulation, tax avoidance, and so on. Free people should not have to work Monday and Tuesday for the government.
The fact that the government takes an incredible amount of people’s income every year and still has a staggering $20 trillion debt is a testament to just how bad the government is. The government’s incompetence is exacerbated when one considers the trillions wasted on Middle Eastern wars or what it spent to import tens of millions of low skill immigrants who, along with their children, get massive amounts of welfare and other benefits.
Perhaps the national anthem celebrates the American people rather than a free country and our pathetic government. Also, many of us are not in the mood to have our football contaminated with political expression. Still, one can’t help but think that somewhere or other a protest is in order.
05 October 2016
A Vicious Fight in Philosophy over Homosexuality
October 4, 2016
Oxford University’s Richard Swinburne, arguably the world’s leading Christian philosopher, recently caused a firestorm when he argued that homosexuality is a disease and homosexual sex is wrong.
Following his comments, a nasty brawl broke out. Notre Dame professor Michael Rea, who is part of the leadership team that invited Swinburne to the Society of Christian Philosophers, apologized for his comments.
Yale University professor Jason Stanley was harsher. He responded to Swinburne and people who think like him by posting “Fuck those assholes” on Facebook. The phrase was then repeated by Columbia University’s John Collins and University of British Columbia’s Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa. Dan Steinberg stepped it up, posting, “Fist those guys.” Georgetown University’s Rebecca Kukla outdid them. She posted, “Those douche tankards can suck my giant queer cock.” Yale, Columbia, etc. are elite institutions and Ichikawa, Kukla, Rea, and Stanley are well-known in philosophy. The controversy reached Inside Higher Education and is still swirling about.
Swinburne gave two arguments in support of his claim that gay sex is wrong. First, God prohibits gay sex (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:24-27). Second, gay sex is wrong because a climate of disapproval would prevent some people from becoming homosexual.
Swinburne argued that homosexuality is a reversible disease (or disability). On his account, it is a disease because a homosexual cannot beget children through a loving act with a lifelong partner. He also argued that homosexuality should not be encouraged because children nurtured by homosexual parents do not do as well in life as those nurtured by heterosexual biological parents.
Swinburne’s arguments fail. First, even if the Bible condemns gay sex, the Bible is unreliable on moral matters. The Bible also condemns money lending (Ezekiel 18:13) and permits slave-owning (Leviticus 25:44-46). These absurdities are enough to disqualify it.
Second, the inability to directly beget children with one’s partner does not show that something is a disease unless we build into the notion of a disease something like Swinburne’s or the Catholic view of sex. This would make medicine depend on theology and they are independent. For example, one can be a fine doctor without knowing anything about Christianity.
Third, even if homosexuality were a disease (or disability), this does not make gay sex wrong. Infertility is a disability, but this does not make it wrong for a husband to have sex with his infertile wife. If gay sex wrongs no one, then it is not wrong. Even if gay sex encourages children and young adults to be gay, no one has a duty to be a role model, let alone a moral saint. The notion that it wrongs God is even less plausible because God has no right to tell people what they can do with their lives. They are not his chattel slaves.
There are other plausible arguments that homosexuality is a mental disorder. New York University’s Jerry Wakefield has the leading theory of a disorder. His theory is that a disorder is a harmful dysfunction. He asserts that harm is what makes someone’s life go worse. He argues that an individual has a dysfunction when he has an internal body part (or mechanism) that fails to perform its natural function, that is, the function for which evolution designed it. The natural function is on some accounts, although perhaps not Wakefield’s, the part’s contribution to reproduction (more specifically, reproductive fitness) and, perhaps, longevity.
On this account, whether homosexuality is a disorder depends on whether homosexuality is harmful and whether it prevents or lessens reproduction. The evidence here is mixed. Homosexuals are less likely than heterosexuals to say they were extremely or very happy and more likely to say they were fairly unhappy or unhappy most of the time. Gay men are more likely to suffer depression than straight men. My guess is that the greater unhappiness of gays has an external cause (homophobia) and is not a result of their orientation, but this is just a guess. Gays have a lower level of reproductive fitness. They also have higher rates of mental disorders than non-gay populations, although being associated with other mental disorders need not make a condition itself a disorder.
Wakefield notes that psychiatrists held that homosexuality is not a disorder because they think it is not harmful. Specifically, they think that it does not lessen people’s capacity for loving human relationships. He argues that psychiatrists sidestepped the thorny issue of whether it is a dysfunction.
Whether homosexuality is a disorder, then, is an empirical question and not one that can be answered by mere armchair speculation. My guess is that it is not.
Whether it is a disease or not, gay sex is clearly morally permissible because it wrongs no one. Relationships are good to the extent they make the partners’ lives go better. There is little reason to believe that gay people’s relationships contribute less to their lives than do straight people’s relationships and, hence, they are as good as straight relationships for participants. Whether it is a disorder is irrelevant to the rightness or goodness of gay life.
The ferocity of the philosophers’ condemnation is striking. First, even if Swinburne’s arguments are unconvincing, Wakefield’s theory of a disorder opens the door to the issue of whether homosexuality is a disorder. Second, if one thinks what the Bible says is true, then one is forced into adopting something like Swinburne’s approach to make sense of the Bible’s and churches’ pronouncements on sexual morality. Thus, the vicious criticism cuts deeply into Christianity. It likely cuts just as deeply into Islam. Third, given the influence of these philosophers and their schools, it is worth considering the degree to which these schools are hostile to Christianity. If the two are going to go to war, it is good that the rest of us know it.
Full disclosure: While at Oxford, I had Swinburne as a professor.
21 September 2016
New York City Bomb Attack: Allahu Akbar
September 20, 2016
The debate over Muslim immigration and terrorism highlights the yawning gap between the American people and the political elite.
This past weekend, it appears that a Muslim immigrant, citing Islam, set off bombs in the New York metropolitan area. On the morning of September 17, one of the pipe bomb exploded along the route of a Marine Corps charity run in Seaside Park, New Jersey. Later that day, a homemade pressure cooker bomb went off in Chelsea, Manhattan, injuring twenty-nine people. Shortly thereafter, another pressure cooker bomb was found four blocks away. More bombs were later discovered in a New Jersey train station.
The suspect, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was captured, but only after he shot a police officer. He is an Afghan immigrant who allegedly picked up radical Muslim views when travelling to Afghanistan and Pakistan. NPR reports that there is some evidence that he was inspired by the Muslim immigrants who bombed the Boston marathon (Tsarnaev brothers).
On a side note, the pictures of the Tsarnaev-bombing amputees give you a nice feel for what these attackers wanted.
On the same day as the above attack, another Muslim immigrant, Dahir A. Adan, stabbed eight people at a shopping mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Adan was a Somali immigrant who shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the attack and asked one person if he was Muslim. An off-duty police officer shot him dead.
These attacks follow the attack by the son of a Muslim immigrant, Omar Mateen, who slaughtered 49 people and wounded 53 people at a gay nightclub (Pulse) in Orlando, Florida while predictably shouting “Allahu Akbar.” In the middle of the slaughter he called 9-11 three times to explain how he was acting on behalf of ISIS and was also inspired by the Muslim immigrants who bombed the Boston marathon (Tsarnaev brothers). Reading about this slaughter had a similar feel to the Muslim slaughters in Boston, Brussels, Chattanooga, Fort Hood, Paris (Charlie Hebdo and later more bloody attack), San Bernadino, and so on.
These attacks are, of course, different from Muslims immigrants and their children’s misogyny. In a 20016 New Year’s celebration of the New Year roughly 1,900 women in Germany were sexually attacked by mostly Muslim immigrants in seven cities, most famously Cologne. This misogyny was less horrific than that Muslim Brits in Rotherham who from 1997-2013 abducted, raped, and trafficked roughly 1,400 white (non-Muslim) teenage girls.
Caroline May writing for Breitbart last year reports that more than two million lawful permanent residents, asylees, and refugees from majority Muslim nations have been come to the U.S. since radical Islamic terrorist attack on 9-11. Center for Immigration Studies’ Steve Camarota points out that under President Hillary Clinton, there will be another massive wave of Muslim immigration. He notes that Clinton could add roughly 860,000 Muslim immigrants, assuming current Obama administration immigration patterns continue and her announced refugee plan is implemented and repeated.
So far the Muslim refugees have been an economic drain. Senator Jeff Session (R-AL) reports that more than 90% of recent Middle Eastern (read Muslim) refugees are on food stamps and almost 70% on cash welfare.
May notes that if the current rate of immigration continues, the U.S. is on schedule to add the population of Los Angeles every three years — on top of the all-time high 42 million foreign-born residents already here. Camarota reports the U.S. currently has 61 million immigrants and their American-born children under age 18. He observes President Clinton could add another 10 million new immigrants to the U.S. during her first term alone.
Did anyone ask the American people whether, following 9-11, they wanted two million Muslim immigrants? Do you want another million? None of the presidential candidates George W. Bush, Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama, John McCain, or Mitt Romney offered to stop the torrent of Muslim immigration or even significantly reduce it. Hillary Clinton certainly won’t do so. Yet this is clearly what Americans want.
What’s more, no reasonable person thinks the country would be better off with two million Muslim immigrants than it would have been with two million immigrants from non-Muslim countries in Europe and Asia. This is especially true if the immigrants were chosen for their talent, education, or money. Not only would the latter easily assimilate, but such immigrants would clearly benefit the American people.
There is a debate whether the Islamist supremacy, misogyny, and homophobia are central to the Islam and many virtuous Muslims ignore it or whether it is a perversion of Islam that is mistakenly adopted by a significant minority of Muslims. From the perspective of people choosing their neighbors and co-workers, this doesn’t matter. The fact is that a significant minority of Muslims have beliefs and practices that are abhorrent. The fact that the Islamic religion is at odds with any reasonable philosophical or scientific worldview is yet another reason to choose other people to be our neighbors.
It is also time to replace the political elite in this country. American mandarins, such as the Clintons and Bushes, have made it clear that they will fight to their political death to flood the country with unskilled third world immigrants. They couldn’t care less about lowering taxes, reducing the debt, respecting the Constitution, or ending military adventures around the globe. They need fainting couches when Donald Trump or other politicians speak about immigration in blunt terms, but then avert their eyes at the cost of keeping the immigration spigot open. It’s time for them to go.
14 September 2016
The Presidential Election and Affirmative Action
September 5, 2016
Charges of racism and xenophobia are being thrown at Donald Trump as part of the attempt to energize minority voting and create a wedge between Trump and the Republican elite (for example, Jeb Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney). Trump and his supporters should welcome this attempt to racialize the election.
Consider Barack Obama’s attempt to amnesty five million illegal aliens and then smear opponents as xenophobes or racists. Relative to the current American populations, these aliens and their offspring are poorer, less well-educated, less intelligent, and impose net costs on society via their use of welfare and other government benefits. As a result, amnesty is not good for current Americans. It is even worse when one considers that the country could instead be importing high quality immigrants from countries like Great Britain, Germany, and Japan. If Hillary wants to make the election about amnesty, she will be throwing the Republicans into the briar patch.
Consider next Obama’s push on affirmative action. His administration backed race and ethnic preferences in the recent Supreme Court decision. It also pushed through many pro-affirmative-action regulations and instructed universities that they may, and implicitly should, consider diversity in admissions. An odd feature of this is that the intellectual case for affirmative action has collapsed.
Rice University professor George Sher recently argued that universities are not really interested in diversity because it promotes various ideas or perspectives. There are a lot of different ideas universities could promote via preferential admission. They could promote conservative ideas by favoring people from conservative parts of the country or religious ideas by favoring people from parts of the country with concentrations of evangelicals, Mormons, or Catholics. They could favor a parental perspective by favoring parents in admission. The choice to largely favor two minority groups (blacks and Hispanics) and sometimes women is not about ideas or perspectives, he notes, but rather about making up for past injustice. The problem is that lowered standards for university positions or jobs is not an appropriate response to past injustice.
First, the notion that current blacks were harmed by injustices in the distant past (consider slavery and early Jim Crow laws) depends on their being worse off than they would have been had these events not occurred. But these events caused current black people to exist by affecting the reproduction pattern that eventually led to their creation. That is, were these events to not have occurred, the specific black people who live in America would not exist, although others might, and hence current blacks were not harmed by these injustices.
Second, even if current blacks were to exist in the absence of these injustices, the amount of compensation they are owed is nearly impossible to discover. Just compensation would make current blacks indifferent between (a) living with slavery and subsequent oppression and compensation and (b) living without either. A difference in wealth and opportunity would depend on where they live: America or Africa and it is unclear which should be the baseline for discovering what blacks are owed.
Also, on average, American blacks are roughly 19% white. If physical origin or original genetics are an essential feature of who someone is, there would be no world in which the current blacks did not have white ancestors. An imaginary world in which blacks have white ancestors but no history of racial oppression is so different from the actual world as to be practically impossible to use as a way of determining just compensation.
Third, even if compensation were owed and the amount discoverable, it is fairer and efficient to pay it via money than affirmative action. It is fairer because many blacks and Hispanics do not go to universities or apply for jobs that have affirmative action and it is unfair that they get little, if any, compensation. It is more efficient because selecting less talented people is costly.
One cost is the harm that occurs to third parties. Consider that medical error is one of the leading causes of death in the country. Because medical admission tests correlate strongly with medical school grades, medical board scores, and physician performance and affirmative-action beneficiaries score much lower on them, there is good reason to believe that affirmative action brings with it a serious loss of life and health. Just as lower round draft picks in the NFL are on average less talented than first round draft picks, the same is true for physicians.
A second cost is the harm done to the beneficiaries of affirmative action. UCLA law professor Richard Sander argues that mismatching minority students to universities by putting them into schools where the average student is far better makes them perform worse than they would were they correctly matched to universities. For example, he found that about half of black law students rank in the bottom 10% of their classes. He also found that black law school graduates are four times as likely to fail bar exams as are whites and that mismatch explains half of this gap.
Similarly, Sander notes, about half of black college students rank in the bottom 20% of their classes. He further points out, black college freshmen are more likely to aspire to science or engineering careers than are white freshmen, but mismatch causes blacks to abandon these fields at twice the rate of whites.
Third, there is a cost to other applicants who would have attended various universities and programs were their position not given away. This is especially true for the two groups that are likely the biggest victims of affirmative action: non-Jewish whites and Asians.
Proponents of affirmative action cite the various benefits of affirmative action: more role models, less stereotyping, improved group decision-making, and less homogeneity, but there is little reason to think that these benefits outweigh the cost in merit-based efficiency.
If Hillary, Democrats, and the media want to racialize the election, Trump should welcome their doing so. Let’s make the election about amnestying illegal aliens, affirmative action, and whether the country should redouble its focus on racial grievances and then let the average voter weigh in.
08 July 2016
How is it possible that a few posts on Guccifer 2.0 scattered here and on some of my other blogs last night led to their being more easily findable on google than anything Studio Dongo has posted over the last several weeks? Anyone who understands google search algorithms better than me, please feel free to explain! How is this not an epic fail for google?