Monday, June 20, 2016

Nozick on LeBron James and Social "Justice"

...with minor qualifications
On the popular conception of social "justice," justice is equality of outcomes.  One can determine whether an economic arrangement is just simply by looking at the distribution of whatever commodity or good one is interested in and seeing whether the distribution is equal.  On the heals of last night's NBA championship, here is an updated selection from Robert Nozick's "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" (pp. 160-1) showing that this is false:

[Suppose that there is some just distribution of money, D1.] Now suppose that LeBron James is greatly in demand by basketball teams, being a great gate attraction.  (Also suppose contracts run only for a year, with players being free agents.)  He signs the following sort of contract with a team: In each home game, fifteen dollars from the price of each ticket of admission goes to him.  (We ignore the question of whether he is "gouging" the owners, letting them look out for themselves.)  The season starts, and people cheerfully attend his team's games; they buy their tickets, each time dropping a separate fifteen dollars of their admission price into a special box with James's name on it.  They are excited about seeing him play; it is worth the total admission price to them.  Let us suppose that in one season one million persons attend his home games, and LeBron James winds up with $15,000,000 a much larger sum than the average income and larger even than anyone else has.  Is he entitled to his income?  Is this new distribution D2, unjust?  If so, why?  There is no question about whether each of the people was entitled to the control over the resources they held in D1; because that was the distribution (your favorite) that (for the purposes of argument) we assumed was acceptable.  Each of these persons chose to give fifteen dollars of their money to James.  They could have spent it on going to the movies, or on candy bars, or in donations to the Huffington Post, or Salon or for a Hillary Clinton speech.  But they all, at least one million of them, converged on giving it to LeBron James in exchange for watching him play basketball.  If D1 was a just distribution, and people voluntarily moved from it to D2, transferring parts of their shares they were given under D1, isn't D2 also just?  If the people were entitled to dispose of the resources to which they were entitled (under D1), didn't this include their being entitled to give it to, or exchange it with, LeBron James?  Can anyone else complain on grounds of justice?  Each other person already has his legitimate share under D1.  Under D1, there is nothing that anyone has that anyone else has a claim of justice against. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Another Contradiction of the Left

...trying to make it illegal for law abiding citizens to own guns while at the same time advocating for porous open borders whereby criminal organizations can smuggle guns into the country from Mexico. 

"Why Naming Radical Islam Matters"

Excellent piece here by philosopher Jerry Walls.  I reproduce it in its entirety:

It is a ritual that has become all too familiar.   A gunman claiming to act on behalf of Islam, or ISIS, or simply shouting “Allahu Akbar” murders numerous people.  President Obama condemns the atrocity as workplace violence, extremist violence, or even terrorism, but studiously avoids using the terms “radical Islamic terrorism” or “jihad.”   It then becomes a deeply partisan issue as conservative politicians and other commentators point this out, and argue that his failure to name radical Islamic terrorism for what it is reflects a fundamental failure of his policy for dealing with it.  If he cannot even name it, he will never defeat it.  Indeed, the whole matter has played out most sharply in the recent exchanges between Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton after the tragic shooting in Orlando.

But does it really matter?  Does this dispute identify a substantive issue, or is it useless wrangling over words or nothing more than a game of political ping-pong?

Let us think about this matter from the angle of a couple of analogies.   Consider a Dr. who comes to the unfortunate conclusion that his patient has cancer.   It is a serious case, but one that can be cured with the right treatment.  Now why does it matter whether the Dr. calls it cancer, a word that is emotionally loaded and no one wants to hear, or just a more generic name such as a “very severe illness”?   The answer is obvious.   The treatment required to treat cancer is altogether different than what it takes to heal other diseases.   The Dr. must give his patient an accurate diagnosis and let him know just what it will take to fight and defeat it.  It may require surgery and/or various forms of chemotherapy administered in an aggressive and prolonged fashion.  The patient needs to know what he is up against in order to embrace the required treatment and do everything necessary to be rid of it.  The Dr. does no one any favors to skirt the issue or be vague about the disease and what it will require to achieve a cure.

Or consider an analogy from psychotherapy.  A fundamental principle here is that healing cannot take place until the patient honestly names and owns the real issues at the heart of his struggles.  If the deepest issue that is plaguing his mental health is an unacknowledged anger toward his father, he will not resolve his problems so long as he talks in general terms about his angry feelings or evades the real issue by talking about the pain he felt the day his dog died.

The point here is that an honest diagnosis of what we are facing must come to terms with the Islamic roots and motivation of many of the acts of terror that continue to wreak havoc in our world today.   To be sure, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nearly two billion Muslims are not terrorists, and do not sympathize with ISIS and other radical groups.    We have been reminded of that over and over every time there is an act of terror and most Americans are quick to acknowledge, and even insist upon that.  We recognize that no religion should be defined in terms of its most radical adherents.

But here is the point.  The same honesty that requires us to make clear that the large majority of Muslims are not terrorists also requires us to acknowledge that radical Islamic terrorism is very much a reality in many parts of our world. It cannot be denied that these terrorists draw their inspiration and motivation from an interpretation of Islam, and one that has had some notable adherents in Islamic theology and tradition (see Jean Betjke Elshtain, Just War Against Terror).

One reason many people are reluctant to acknowledge the radical Islamic component of terrorism, despite the fact that many of these terrorists themselves insist upon it, is because modern and postmodern people are skeptical of any religious explanation of human behavior. They doubt that religion is ever the real motive that accounts for human action.  Post enlightenment skeptics are prone think the real explanation is political, or social, or economic, or psychological, or even broadly cultural, but never truly and distinctly religious.  Religious explanations thus reduce to categories that we enlightened people find more intelligible and easy to manage.  And no doubt there is some truth here.  Even if we don’t go the whole way with the reductionist line, we may acknowledge that some of these factors are part of the explanation, and indeed are often connected and intertwined with the religious motivation.

But here is the crucial point that has to be understood:  billions of people really do believe in God, and that includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, and many others.  And doing the will of God is for them the most important thing in life.  As hard as it is for many contemporary people to accept, for radical Islamic terrorists, doing the will of God involves killing “infidels” whether they be moderate Muslims, Christians, Jews, or secularists.

The practical problem here with failing to diagnose radical Islamic terrorism and correctly naming it is that we may think we can defeat it with the medicine of politics, or sociology or psychology or economics.  If we think of it only in criminal terms we may imagine that we can deal with it as with any other crime, by passing and enforcing better legislation, particularly gun control laws.  While all of these may be essential to a long term solution, any prescription that ignores the religious dimension or trivializes it has no hope of getting to the root of the matter.

Another reason it is sometimes suggested that we should not name radical Islamic terrorism is because it will only provoke moderate Muslims and inspire more of them to join the terrorists.  This suggestion also fails completely to come to terms with the truly religious motivation of radical Islamic terrorism.  Radical Islamic terrorists do not need our provocation to be motivated to engage in acts of terror.  Their interpretation of their religion and their hatred of Israel and the West is all the motivation they need.

Moreover, to avoid the term out of fear of provocation only feeds their sense that the West is weak, and that they have the power to terrorize our lives.  That is the sort of thing that attracts new recruits, and feeds the narrative that they are succeeding in their goal of global domination.

Even worse, the claim that calling radical Islam what it is will provoke moderate Muslims to radicalize is remarkably condescending to peaceful Muslims.   Is their commitment to Islam as a peaceful religion so fragile that they can be so easily turned into radicals?  Moderate Muslims themselves have a large interest in acknowledging radical Islam for what it is because that is essential to their concern to show that Islam is truly a religion of peace.

Radical Islamic terrorism is a particularly dangerous threat precisely because it is motivated by an interpretation of a major world religion, and this provides a far deeper and more powerful sort of true belief and zealous conviction than communism or Nazism could ever provide.   The most ambitious secular empires could not pretend that joining their cause was doing something of truly transcendent significance with eternal rewards for a job well done.

We may persist in denying the reality of radical Islamic terrorism and calling it something else, with the noblest and most charitable of intentions.   But we need clarity and honesty here, as well as good intentions.   And that requires both a correct diagnosis of what is wrong and a forthright naming of what it is.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

"The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations"

Bill Maher gets a lot of things wrong, but here he educates Charlie Rose on Islam vs. Christianity.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Empirical Support for the Postmillenial Mustard Seed

Committed Christians to Non-Christian (n/1)

"Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:  Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." (Matthew 13:31-32) 
 I emphasize that this is empirical support, by no means it is it a demonstration of postmillennialism.

Still, there is some reason for optimism; I take postmillennialism to be the most optimistic of the Christian positions on eschatology.  Aside from spiritual virtues specific to Christianity not held by most others, here are some other positive effects that Christianity has arguably contributed to civilization (though I will not argue for this historical claim, and I'll ignore contributing causes):

The abolition of widespread slavery
The creation of the modern university and mass education
The elevation of subjugated women to equal status with men (including among other things in education)
The seeds for the Enlightenment, and with it, liberal democracies
The diminishing of mass poverty and starvation
Condemnation of racism and civil rights for the vulnerable

Empirical support for pessimism regarding postmillennialism: The World Wars and mass atrocities of the 20th Century.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Guns and Goldilocks

The left wants to ban so-called AR-15 "military style assault weapons" (to use the arbitrary PC term designed to scare fellow hoplophobes).  Here is mine.

I pose the following dilemma for the left:

1. Either so-called assault weapons in the hands of many citizens would have the desired effect of making the government seriously think twice about tyranny or not. 
2. If it would, then the legality of so-called assault weapons is justified for putting a check on tyranny.
3. If it would not, then there is no justification for banning so-called assault weapons (without also banning many other guns.)
4. So either way the legality of so-called assault weapons is justified.

What the left needs is that these so-called assault weapons are just right.  They are too lethal for self-defense but not lethal enough in the hands of many law abiding citizens to thwart tyrannical aggression.  But if they are military style assault weapons, they sure sound like they'd have the desired effect of (e.g.) checking the FBI from going door to door and confiscating everyone's guns.  No doubt the U.S. military could obliterate all citizens with its massive military might, but no government set on being tyrannical over its citizens would do so.

Ban on Alcohol

Alcohol is responsible for c.105,000 deaths in the U.S. each year (CDC). In about 1/2 of homicides, alcohol is a serious causal factor. I conclude that only the government should be permitted to have alcohol. Or, at best, that all purchasers of alcohol regularly have a universal background check for alcoholism and traffic violations involving alcohol, that only small amounts of alcohol can be purchased at any one time, that the content of alcohol in each distribution be <4%, that alcohol manufacturers can be sued if their alcohol is used in a traffic fatality regardless of the quality of its production....or, again, more simply that there should be no alcohol (except in the hands of the government).

'It is called wine,' said O'Brien with a faint smile. 'You will have read about it in books, no doubt. Not much of it gets to the Outer Party, I am afraid.' (Orwell, 1984)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Could Bill Clinton or George W. Bush be President Again?

Yes.  Both are still eligible for office (as are George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, each of whom only served one term).

The relevant section of the 22nd Amendment reads:
Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.
The key word is "elected" and the key phrase is "elected to the office of the President." No person shall be elected for President more than twice.  The text says nothing about whether a former two-term-elected President can serve as President.   Words matter.  If Congress had intended that no former President could serve more than two terms, the writers could have said that.  Or they could have said that no person shall be President for more than eight years.  That would have been clear enough.  Bill Clinton could be elected as VP and George W. Bush to Speaker of the House (or Secretary of ____, etc.). Both could then become President legitimately via lines of succession though neither could be elected again once he served out his term.

Why Xians are Becoming More LGBTQ Affirming

Benjamin Corey thinks he has the answers

More Christians are engaging with [poor, agenda driven] biblical scholarship than before.

More Christians are realizing that being gay isn’t a choice.

More Christians are aware of the harmful impact of non-affirming theology.

More Christians are seeing people instead of seeing an abstract issue.

More Christians are are [sic] siding with the message of hope– and there’s no hope in non-affirming theology. 

Well, Ben, you should have just come out and told us what you really think, namely that LGBTetc. sex is good, right, and true!  Get over it bigots!

The article is poor and the evidence paltry but go ahead and read it if you can stomach the tired clich├ęs.  But before you do that, I'll go ahead and tell you why western Xians are becoming more affirming (note that this phenomenon is not sweeping over Christians in Africa and the East).  It's the same reason that western culture is more affirming: Hollywood (and the media more generally) which have always attracted the far left (perhaps mostly due to self-selection) and pushed the issue in the last decade and a half. 

Ellen DeGeneres
The Good Wife
Anderson Cooper
The Daily Show
Late Night TV
Grey's Anatomy
Modern Family
2 1/2 Men
Reality Shows with outspoken homosexuals (Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, you name it)
Gay couples [always well adjusted and funny] featured on TV shows regularly

I could go on and on and on and on.  In fact, it's hard to find someone or some show or movie which does not overtly or subtly promote the LGBT issue and cram it down your throat.  What you won't see, are all the flamers and swingers at gay bars.   What you won't see is the bisexual issue pushed--threeways and fourways and "open marriages."  What you won't see are "genderfucks."  But what you will see is a concerted effort to make the LGBTQQIIGetc. persons-qua-queer normalized if not lionized and glorified. 
That is the primary reason, Mr. Corey.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Men Are Now Dwarfs"

In the past men were handsome and great (now they are children and dwarfs), but this is merely one of the many facts that demonstrate the disaster of an aging world.  The young no longer want to study anything, learning is in decline, the whole world walks on its head, blind men lead others equally blind and cause them to plunge into the abyss, birds leave the next before they can fly, the jackass plays the lyre, oxen dance.  Mary no longer loves the contemplative life and Martha no longer loves the active life, Leah is sterile, Rachel has a carnal eye, Cato visits brothels.  Everything is diverted from its proper course.          --Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose, p. 15

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Universe Doesn't Exist

If the universe did exist, it would be composed of you and I, trees, birds, rocks, planets, and whatever things exist in space more generally.  If it were composed of you and I, we would be parts of the universe.  But I am a substance--either a living organism that has parts or an immaterial soul.  Either way, since I am a substance, I am not a proper part of anything else.  This just follows from what it is to be a substance.   If we follow Aristotle in thinking that living things are substances, none is a part of the universe.  As well, if fundamental particles are substances, they are not a part of the universe either.  But then from the first statement above, the universe does not exist, since if it did, the things mentioned would be a part of it.

One could hold, alternatively, that there is only a single material substance, the universe, everything else being a part of it.